Politics & Policy

Rethinking Immigration

It is bad enough that Sen. Mel Martinez, the national chairman of the Republican party, is out of step with a large majority of the party’s voters and volunteers on immigration. What’s worse is that he is now attacking the party’s presidential candidates for being in step with them. Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have turned against the “comprehensive” reform that Martinez has tried to push through the Senate, so Martinez is accusing them of not “leading on the tough issues.” Neither is Martinez: To be a leader, you have to have followers; and the country does not want to follow him down the path to amnesty. Romney and Giuliani are right to seek another route.

It’s also worth remembering that most Republican senators, and a larger majority of Republican House members, opposed Martinez’s bill. Yet Martinez praises John McCain as “courageous” for defying the will of his party. There is some virtue in sticking by losing principles: McCain has that consolation as he continues to sink in the polls. But there is more virtue in reconsidering mistaken views. Romney and Giuliani are right to endorse beefed-up border-security and enforcement measures. The debate between them now centers on who was more lax on illegal immigration in the past.

It is true that Mayor Giuliani defended his city’s sanctuary policies and opposed denying non-emergency welfare benefits to illegal aliens as “inherently unfair.” Last year, he was arguing that cracking down on illegal immigration was both inappropriate and impossible. While some Massachusetts towns remained unmolested “sanctuary cities,” during his tenure, Governor Romney vetoed a plan to allow in-state tuition for illegal aliens, opposed granting them drivers’ licenses, and encouraged state troopers to enforce immigration laws. Neither candidate opposed last year’s Senate amnesty bill. Both opposed this year’s version.

Let’s stipulate that the two candidates’ views on immigration reform have evolved. We welcome converts to the cause of crafting sensible reforms that secure our borders and enforce our current laws. Romney supports increased border security and workplace enforcement and opposes rewarding illegal behavior. Giuliani now vows to end illegal immigration. Unfortunately, he also favors legalizing illegal aliens who would “go to the back of the line” before achieving citizenship. You would think Martinez would be pleased.

Perhaps he is not because he fears that Giuliani means it when he promises enforcement. The mayor’s tenacity and tough law-and-order record should reassure skeptics. But as we learned following the 1986 immigration reform, granting legal status to illegal aliens before fully implementing enforcement measures encourages more illegal immigration.

No amnesty for our illegal-immigrant population should even be considered until border crossings have been dramatically reduced, a reliable worker-verification system is in place, and foreign visitors can be effectively tracked. We hope that the pragmatic, tough-minded Giuliani will recognize that his enforcement pledge will be fatally undermined by his amnesty promise.

The recent debate over immigration reform revealed broad support for securing our borders and strong opposition to amnesty for illegal aliens. While GOP Chairman Martinez counsels politicians to ignore this popular sentiment, politicians should and will be rewarded for listening to voters.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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