The Corner

Re: Marco Rubio, Rush Limbaugh, and the Crux of the Matter

Rich, you say that the Rubio plan provides amnesty even before the “security triggers.” I respectfully disagree. Part of the innovation in this proposal is that it tries to create penalties for illegal immigration that are actually enforceable. Most Americans would define amnesty as relieving wrongdoers of further punishment. In practical effect, that’s what the current system does. It’s not what the Rubio plan does. 

Everyone agrees that we’re not going to start doing police-state sweeps of whole neighborhoods. Therefore, those who insist that deportation is the only valid penalty for illegal presence are unwittingly supporting the current situation, which is a massive de facto amnesty. Except in the few states that have implemented E-Verify, it’s laughably easy for illegal immigrants to find jobs here and live out their whole lives among us. 

Under the Rubio scheme, if the typical illegal immigrant is caught, or comes forward voluntarily, he has to register or, in effect, he gets deported. If he registers, he has to pay a stiff fine, plus back taxes, and he gives up any federal benefits, including benefits he may be receiving now. By creating penalties that are actually enforceable, the Rubio plan seeks to replace the current de facto amnesty with a system that our law-enforcement agencies can actually control. 

Yesterday NR’s editors argued, ”Piecemeal reform emphasizing empirical security benchmarks is a far better option” than a grand comprehensive bargain. But the Rubio plan reflects that insight by providing for an ordered sequence rather than an all-at-once solution. It recognizes that the problem of illegal immigration needs to be solved before we modify the current path to citizenship. It recognizes that we cannot reward illegal behavior, nor create incentives to more of it. 

It seems to me that by combining enhanced border security with comprehensive employment verification, the Rubio plan may actually create a practical way to solve the problem of illegal immigration in our generation. Border security can be achieved at the border only by eliminating the economic incentive to mass invasion, thereby alleviating the pressure on border enforcement. As long as 10 million illegal immigrants can find work here, you will never have border security, ever, even if you militarize the border. Some sort of universal E-Verify is necessary.

Implementing an effective system of employment verification will cause millions of illegal immigrants to self-deport. Many others will prefer to pay onerous penalties in order to be able to stay and work legally. That’s not amnesty. 

As a foundation for immigration reform, there’s too much good in this plan to reject it out of hand. Conservatives should think about ways the plan can be modified to meet their concerns

Mario Loyola — Contributing editor Mario Loyola is senior fellow and Director of the Center for Competitive Federalism at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. He began his career in corporate ...

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