Politics & Policy

The Immigration Debate: Widening the Scope

Patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border fence near Nogales, Ariz. (John Moore/Getty)
Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, et al. need to discuss the whole range of immigration issues.

The battle between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio over immigration has so far focused on questions of “amnesty.” There are legitimate arguments on both sides about whether to give a blanket legalization (or “amnesty” or “path to citizenship” or whatever you want to call it) to those who have broken our immigration laws by coming here illegally. Those arguments have been rehashed plenty of times. But whether to offer legalization is only part of a much bigger discussion, and Republicans, along with the nation as a whole, would be well served by having a more capacious debate about immigration policy.

As Mickey Kaus has argued, even if someone supports legalization or a path to citizenship, there is a second key policy choice: when to offer this legalization. The Gang of Eight bill would have legalized millions of people before any enforcement provisions had gone into effect; the sponsors of this bill were very clear that legalization would preempt enforcement. (There is also the question about whether legalization should allow for citizenship, but there are reasons to doubt whether there exists a very bright line between legalization and citizenship, because legalization will very likely eventually lead to citizenship because of various political and philosophical pressures.)

RELATED: Cruz vs. Rubio: An Immigration Confrontation

Plenty of people who are much more serious about enforcing immigration law than Chuck Schumer also support legalization — but only after enforcement has been put in place. I don’t know anyone who would call Mark Krikorian an open-borders fanatic, but he has supported legalization (and even a path to citizenship) for illegal immigrants. However, he has argued that enforcement should precede legalization. It would be bizarre in the extreme to say that Krikorian and Schumer basically have the same position on immigration because they both are open to a path to citizenship. When and under what conditions legalization happens is perhaps as important as whether it should happen at all.

#share#While many open-borders activists have tried to focus the public discussion on what we should do with the millions of illegal immigrants already here, there is no reason why our national conversation as a whole should fixate on that topic to the exclusion of all others. We should have a discussion about the overall vision of immigration reform. Do we want a big-government, open-borders approach to immigration (à la the Gang of Eight), or do we want an immigration system that promotes opportunity and civil integration? What concrete steps can we take to implement successful immigration enforcement? In a time of increased pressure on the working class, what is the role of guest-worker programs? How can we revise the legal-immigration system so that it reflects the values of Benjamin Franklin instead of those of the Habsburg Empire? What steps can we take to help immigrants join the Republic as civic equals?

EDITORIAL: Stopping the Flow of Illegal Immigrants

By fixating on legalization, we ignore those other important points. Now, the Gang of Eight bill did not deliver a satisfactory answer to many of those questions. It was anti-market, anti-worker, anti-opportunity, and anti-integration. By widening the scope of vision, we can see how deeply flawed that piece of legislation was. This broader scope also reveals the failures of the status quo and of other pieces of legislation. It’s surprising, for instance, that the proposal in the omnibus spending bill to quadruple the number of H-2B guest workers has not become more of a campaign issue, especially since Senators Cruz, Graham, Paul, and Rubio will have to vote on the omnibus.

#related#If we’re going to offer real reform of the immigration system, we need to consider — and to debate — that system in all its complexity. I get why the media are playing up the argument between Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz about the latter’s position on legalization; “he said, she said” arguments are easy ratings, and the media love to cover charges of hypocrisy or “flip-flopping” (at least when Republicans are involved). It’s less clear why Republicans should allow the issue of legalization to suck up all the oxygen in the immigration debate. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and others should not let this issue obscure the other valuable points they could make in a discussion of immigration policy.

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