Ramesh Ponnuru points out that the three billionaires op-ed in the New York Times has a logical disjunction. The billionaires are mostly interested in increasing high-skill immigration. If that policy could somehow be separated from the rest of the immigration controversies, there would very likely be sufficient congressional support for increasing high-skill immigration. But the billionaires are urging Congress to pass a “comprehensive” immigration reform that would also increase future low-skill immigration and legalize millions of currently unauthorized immigrants prior to implementing improved internal immigration enforcement.
As Ponnuru points out, the billionaires would seem to be undermining the cause of expanding high-skill immigration by bundling it with more controversial policies. Why would they do that? It is because the coalition supporting the current version of “comprehensive” immigration reform seems to have accepted certain demands from Democratic political elites and the lobbyists seeking to drive down the wages of low-skill workers.
The first demand is that the Democrats will not accept increased high-skill immigration unless it is bundled with amnesty and expanded low-skill immigration. The second demand seems to be that the implementation of internal enforcement measures before legalization is worse than no deal at all. One can imagine a deal where some of the conservative opposition accepts a limited amnesty only after the implementation of a visa tracking system and workplace verification for both new and current employees. The Democrats and low-wage labor lobbies won’t have that. The Democrats are counting on benefiting from increased demographic change and an alienated low-skill worker population. Employers of low-skill workers would rather keep open the pipeline of future illegal low-skill labor even if it means that the current population of unauthorized immigrants do not get legal status. For both the Washington Democrats and the cheap labor lobbies, if they have to choose between legalization in five years after implementation of internal enforcement, and no legalization at all, they will pick no legalization at all. That is something to remember the next time Democratic spokesmen go on about the urgency of bringing people out of the shadows. The Democrats prefer keeping current unauthorized workers in the shadows if that also means preventing effective internal enforcement. That is the coalition the billionaires have latched onto.
The problem is that the billionaires know that the Democrats are united and confident that they will get everything they want in the end. The Republicans are divided on immigration policy with a significant fraction of the party’s Washington elites willing (either from libertarian ideology or the search for donations) to make a deal on the terms of the Democrats and the lobbies who want to drive down the wages of low-skill workers. From the perspective of the billionaires, the current coalition in favor of the current form of “comprehensive” immigration reform probably seems like a better bet than trying to construct a new coalition that divides the business lobbies and is opposed by embittered Democratic leaders.
The immediate task of conservatives is to defeat the current immigration proposal of increased low-skill immigration and legalization before enforcement (and one can reasonably surmise permanent nonenforcement). But that isn’t enough, because the status quo serves the Democrats well enough. The even more important task for conservatives is to put together an immigration agenda which command enough electoral support that billionaire opportunists decide they have a better chance of getting more of what they want by allying with conservatives.