The latest line from the open-borders lobby is that the American public is now with them. Don’t believe it. The latest Gallup poll, from early April, has 47 percent of the public thinking that immigration should be decreased, compared with 35 percent who want it left as is and only 15 percent who want it increased. President Bush, John McCain, the Chamber of Commerce, and much of the rest of the great and good are siding with that 15 percent–and, all too often, condemning the great majority of the American public as “yahoos.”
It is true that some poll questions, read in isolation, appear to support the president. The same Gallup poll asked if illegal aliens should all be deported, should be allowed to remain in the U.S. for a limited time, or should be allowed to stay here and become citizens if they meet certain conditions. The last option won 63 percent support. But there are two things worth noticing here. The first is that the list of options is artificially limited. Respondents were not allowed to say that they favored shrinking the illegal population over time by stepping up enforcement of the law. A contemporaneous Fox News poll shows 57 percent support for “trying to send as many illegal immigrants back to their home countries as possible.”
The second is that the question does not specify whether the law would be enforced against new illegal immigrants. If we brought immigration down to a manageable, which is to say more easily assimilable, level–by, for example, bringing the arrival rate of new illegals down to a fraction of what it is now while leaving legal-immigration levels unchanged–then we might favor lenient treatment for some of the illegal immigrants already here ourselves.
To put it another way: Amnesty is not the most objectionable feature of the president’s plan. It is the combination of amnesty with laxity in enforcement and a new guest-worker program to which we object. If we are not going to require employers to take the simplest steps to verify the legal status of their employees, then an amnesty will simply act as a magnet for more illegal immigration in the future.
Gallup also has the country evenly split on the merits of building a wall along the Mexican border. Fox News finds 73 percent wanting “fines and criminal charges against employers who hire illegal immigrants.” The only real change in the politics of this issue isn’t any new support for open borders. It is Republicans’ increased fear, brought on by the illegal-immigrant rallies and the ecstatic media coverage thereof, of being labeled racist or anti-immigrant.
The wisest course for Republicans would be to say something like the following: “Immigration has made this country better. Immigration can continue to work for America if we make sure that it proceeds in an orderly, manageable, and rational way. We will enforce our laws at the border and the workplace. Once we have brought illegal immigration under control, we will consider increasing legal immigration levels and granting an amnesty to some illegal immigrants who are already here. Whatever we decide, we will at all times treat illegal immigrants humanely.”
Republicans who defend these views will of course be called racist and anti-immigrant (sometimes by conservatives who should know better). The response should be that anyone who makes that accusation is calling the American public racist–which isn’t a winning election platform.