Politics & Policy

Kelly Ayotte’s Amnesty Folly

Announcing her support for the Gang of Eight immigration bill on Sunday morning’s Face the Nation, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) called it a “thoughtful, bipartisan solution to a tough problem.” Thoughtful is one thing her support for that bill is not. In an op-ed published on her website, Ayotte shows no sign of knowing what the main objections of the bill’s critics are, much less of having grappled with them.

Ayotte says that the status quo amounts to a “de facto amnesty” because so many illegal immigrants live here. It follows, then, that the bill she supports would offer a de jure amnesty. Like the 1986 immigration bill that almost everyone agrees set the stage for our current troubles, the proposal before the Senate would offer nearly immediate legal status while promising increased enforcement in the future. The danger is that we will get the amnesty but not the enforcement, and that more illegal immigrants will come here in the expectation that they too will receive an amnesty from a country that cannot get serious about controlling its borders. Rather than answer this concern, Ayotte pretends that it does not exist.

She does, at least, say that she will work to bolster the bill’s border-security provisions during the amendment process. Yet Senate Democrats, and some of the bill’s Republican sponsors, have repeatedly ruled out the structural change that would make a difference: withholding legal status until enforcement is in place. It is highly unlikely that Ayotte could succeed in amending the bill along these lines, and she does not propose to try — which is not surprising, since she, again, betrays no understanding that the bill’s current structure is problematic.

All the senator has to offer in support of the bill’s momentous expansion of “guest worker” programs are two sentences of talking points about “jobs that Americans won’t perform.” While it is surely true that on average Americans want higher wages than guest workers do, that is a problem for employers, not for the federal government. Ayotte does not mention the possibility of businesses’ increasing wages to attract workers to otherwise unattractive jobs, or the possibility that the guest-worker program’s lax enforcement provisions will make it into nothing more than a vehicle for increased low-skilled immigration; and she certainly does not address the downsides of such an increase.

All the rhetorical force of Ayotte’s op-ed comes from the claim that “the status quo is unacceptable.” Something must be done; this is something; so let’s do it. That a situation is very bad does not mean it cannot be made worse. But that too is a possibility that Senator Ayotte does not consider. It is a long way from what she said in 2010, when she ran for the Senate on a platform of enforcing the immigration laws first. And it’s a long way from thoughtful.


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