The Corner

Rubio Refining Immigration Message

Senator Rubio was on Mark Levin’s show yesterday, revising and extending his earlier remarks on amnesty to the Journal and the Times. He seems to be walking back some of what he said last week, asserting the need for “triggers” to “certify that, indeed, the workplace security thing is in place, the visa tracking is in place, and there’s some level of significant operational control of the border.” Whatever its superficial appeal, this trigger idea is an old gimmick used to reconcile the “enforcement first” demand with amnesty. A big problem with it is defining a trigger — past versions have involved a target level of appropriations or maybe certification by the four southern border governors that the border is secure. But even if there were a workable trigger, and I’ve never seen one, there would be irresistible political pressure on whoever was responsible to get the certifying over with so the amnesty could get under way.

A better approach is smaller confidence-building measures, like mandatory E-Verify in exchange for amnesty for illegals who came here as infants or toddlers. If either side welshes on the deal — as the amnesty crowd did in willfully abandoning their 1986 insincere promise to support immigration enforcement in exchange for amnesty — then the damage is contained. But if each side honors the deal, and we did get, say, full implementation of E-Verify and the most sympathetic of the DREAMers did get amnestied, then you could proceed to a further step.

And a further problem with the trigger approach is that it would require things that are already on the books. An exit-tracking system for foreign visitors, for instance, is vital to any serious immigration-control system (as Senator Rubio is now pointing out), but the requirement to implement one has been on the books for 17 years. Why would immigration hawks negotiate over something that was supposed to already be in place? The executive branch needs to keep its old promises before it starts making new ones.

Also on Levin’s show, Senator Rubio clarified his “path to citizenship.” The illegals would all get amnesty immediately, of course, but they would only have a renewable work visa. After a time, they’d be able to apply for green cards (that could lead to citizenship) only through the existing immigration system by, say, marrying a citizen or what have you. Practically speaking, that would mean millions of the amnestied illegal aliens would remain in that work-visa status for the rest of their lives, creating a strong issue for Democrats: “Vote for us and we’ll end the Jim Crow immigration status the evil Republicans have imposed on you!” We’d lose Hispanic market share with that kind of approach.

Finally Rubio seems to be calling for gigantic increases in legal immigration. He’s been stressing the need to increase share of legal immigrants who are selected based on their skills; currently, the employment-based categories account for only 13 percent of the 1 million-plus immigrants we take each year, and half of those are spouses and children of the immigrants selected for their skills, which is why he’s been saying only 6.5 percent of legal immigration is skill-based. But Rubio is also saying, as in this Spanish-language op-ed that’s being widely published, that “None of this should lead us to abandon or weaken immigration based on family.” Well, to get that 6.5 percent skilled figure up to just 25 percent of the total immigration flow, without reducing family immigration (or the visa lottery or refugee resettlement) would require an annual legal immigration level of 1.9 million a year, almost double what we have now. If Rubio wants to double legal immigration, he needs to make that clear now.

Mark Krikorian — Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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