Politics & Policy

No, Most Republicans Aren’t for ‘Open Borders’

House speaker Paul Ryan (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Paul Ryan is not for open borders. In the Year of Donald Trump, these are fighting words. They are also true. On his campaign website, the speaker of the House lists four principles that he believes should guide any attempt to reform our immigration system, among which are: “First, we need to secure the border,” and, “Second, we need to enforce our laws.” Ryan has called illegal immigration “an affront to the rule of law and an unacceptable security risk.” He voted for the “Secure Fence Act of 2006,” which aimed “to establish operational control over the international land and maritime borders of the United States.” Other examples abound. Paul Ryan is not for “open borders.”

Unless, that is, you read publications such as Breitbart, which has made a cottage industry out of “exposing” the “open borders” machinations of Republicans. “Speaker Ryan is perhaps Congress’s greatest advocate for open borders,” a recent piece declared, also calling him the policy’s “architect.” Breitbart has also attached the label to Jeb Bush, to Scott Walker, and, of course, to Marco Rubio. And, it’s not just Breitbart. It’s Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. It’s Jim Hoft (a.k.a. “Gateway Pundit”) and Infowars’ Alex Jones (for whom open borders is the plot of a “globalist” cabal). It’s Matt Drudge. And it’s their straight-talk messiah, Donald Trump, the first line of whose immigration plan reads: “When politicians talk about ‘immigration reform’ they mean: amnesty, cheap labor and open borders.”

Here’s the problem: Almost no prominent conservatives are for “open borders” — not Paul Ryan, not Mitch McConnell, not Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz or Scott Walker or (brace yourself!) Marco Rubio.

That’s because “open borders” is not a pejorative; it’s an actual policy position: in the language of OpenBorders.info, one in favor of “a world where there is a strong presumption in favor of allowing people to migrate and where this presumption can be overridden or curtailed only under exceptional circumstances.” A practical example is on display in the European Union’s Schengen zone: free movement between nations. (The Schengen zone is also demonstrating the potential problems with such an arrangement.)

RELATED: Republicans Need a New Approach to Immigration

Alarmists aside, the United States does not resemble the EU on this front. Our borders — one of which, recall, is the longest international border in the world — are closed. That does not mean they are impermeable. But movement across either border into the United States is not legal without the express permission of the United States government. Cross illegally, and you face the prospect of being deported. These are not open borders.

And almost no Republicans want to change that. A few examples suffice. Mitch McConnell, like Ryan, voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006. A year later, he voted against John McCain and Ted Kennedy’s ill-fated immigration-reform bill. In 2013, he said that the Gang of Eight immigration bill was “deficient on the issue of border security,” which “we need to seriously beef up.”

RELATED: What the Conservative Grassroots Gets Right on Immigration — and What the GOP Establishment Gets Wrong

Jeb Bush, in his 2013 book Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, suggested that “comprehensive reform should be constructed upon two core, essential values: first, that immigration is essential to our nation, and second, that immigration policy must be governed by the rule of law.” Abiding by those principles, he wrote, would help policymakers locate a “middle ground” between two insupportable ideological extremes, one of which was advocacy for “open borders.”

And Marco Rubio — despite helping to craft and promote a woefully misguided immigration-reform bill — ran a campaign in which he emphasized, often, the need to secure the country’s borders. When he was repeatedly interrupted at January’s Kemp Forum by immigration activists, he responded simply and pointedly: “We’re going to enforce our immigration laws.”

This is not open-borders advocacy.

#share#You won’t find it in the governor’s mansions either. The Republican governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, campaigned in 2010 on securing the state’s border with Mexico, and early this year signed a law prohibiting illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses. Arizona governor Doug Ducey recently signed a law ending early-release programs for illegal immigrants convicted of crimes. As Texas’s attorney general, Greg Abbott spearheaded the legal challenge to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, or DAPA — and was subsequently elected the state’s governor, with 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.

None of this is to say that Republicans have a sterling record on the subject of immigration. They don’t.

None of this is to say that Republicans, especially congressional Republicans, have a sterling record on the subject of immigration. They don’t. Paul Ryan and many others are for increasing legal immigration. Republicans have enthusiastically supported the H-1B visa program, despite overwhelming evidence that it is being used, illegally, to undercut American tech workers. Republicans refused to push back against President Obama’s lawless executive amnesties, even going so far as to confirm a new attorney general who promised to carry them out. The omnibus spending bill passed in December included funding for the president’s Syrian refugee-resettlement program, an extension of the corrupt EB-5 visa program, and increased levels of H-2B visas — the last measure written in by Republicans themselves.

The GOP should be chided for repeatedly failing to take Americans’ immigration concerns seriously. Needless to say, the party is experiencing a backlash in the form of Donald Trump. Still, favoring increases in legal immigration, or believing that we need more tech or agricultural workers, while arguably bad policy, are not the same as pushing “open borders.” There’s an all-important difference between wanting to secure the borders while also letting more people in, and wanting to erase the border altogether.

#related#That is a distinction that those who have taken to using “open borders” as a slur often refuse to acknowledge. Instead, they repair to arguing that Republican policymakers are “basically” or “essentially” for open borders — which is not an argument at all.

There are, of course, genuine open-borders advocates on the right. The Wall Street Journal stands by its 1984 editorial, and supporters of the policy are active at the Cato Institute and Reason magazine. But it is a position far out of the mainstream of conservatism and of the Republican party, even before its flirtation with Trumpism. The Republican party can do better on immigration — it needs to do better. The first step is dispensing with an intellectually lazy slander.


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