Dear Senator Kyl,
In recent weeks you have taken a lot of heat for supporting the immigration deal in the Senate. Some of the criticism has been unfair, overlooking your many years of intelligent conservative statesmanship and attributing to you a fealty to open-borders ideology that we know you do not have.
Last year, you voted against the amnesty bill and, with John Cornyn, sponsored a more conservative alternative. This year, you and Senator Cornyn have gone in different directions. He opposes the deal, while you support it. Our sense is that where you differ is in your calculation that some sort of amnesty bill was going to pass and that by supporting the deal, you can pull it to the right.
Your calculation was neither unreasonable nor ignoble when you made it. Sixty-two senators had, after all, voted for last year’s bill, and Congress had moved left in the intervening election. The president seemed eager to sign any immigration bill that reached his desk and call it reform.
But it seems to us that political circumstances have changed. Grassroots conservative opposition to this bill has, for one thing, proved stronger than it did last year when opponents of amnesty saw the Republican house as a back-stop. Nor should you worry that a worse deal would pass in the future, for example if Democrats win the White House in 2008. They seem notably unwilling to take an unpopular position on immigration without Republican cover.
So you thought a liberal amnesty bill was inevitable, but now it is only inevitable if you continue to support it. The choice before you is not the one you thought you had a few months ago. Your support for this deal is not moving it right. Rather the Grand Compromise now demands that you work with Ted Kennedy to water-down important conservative improvements to a bill you know is very flawed. And, given the new political dynamics, you are the one pushing this over the finish line.
Some Republican supporters of this deal seem to believe that they have already sustained all the political damage from it that can be sustained, so that the thing to do now is to pass the bill and get it over with. This is a delusion. Conservatives will be far angrier if the bill passes, especially once they see millions of illegal immigrants lining up to get their “probationary” legal status while the bureaucracy drags its feet on enforcement.
As you know, thoughtful conservative critics of the bill are not the know-nothing immigrant haters of caricature. They can see why a lawmaker might, in good faith, seek compromise on this issue. But this compromise asks you to stomach too much. It is not too late to pull the plug.