Trust Us, We’re from the Government

Haley Barbour and Jeb Bush participated in an informercial for the Schumer-Rubio amnesty bill yesterday at the Bipartisan Policy Center. After the presentation, Dave Weigel of Slate talked to Barbour, the quintessential Republican establishment figure:

I asked Barbour whether Republicans would kill the bill if they didn’t attach their preferred enforcement provisions.

“Enforcement first?” asked Barbour, somewhat incredulously. He thought that skepticism sold short the people selling the current version of the bill. “They’re not talking about, ‘Do everything and let’s get around to enforcement later.’ Let us say we’re gonna do it, and let that be sufficient. We’re talking about a 10-year period of time, under the Gang of Eight bill, when people have to be here and meet all the requirements. During that 10-year period, you know, I think people are willing to start.”

“Let us say we’re gonna do it, and let that be sufficient” could be the epitaph of the Republican party.

What Barbour seems to be saying is that, even though the illegal population would be legalized immediately, before enforcement targets are met, the prospect of upgrading them to full green-card status ten years later would provide enough incentive for the political class to ensure that the enforcement promises are carried out. This would supposedly avoid the problem he correctly identified during the public part of the program, when he said, “It’s clearly understandable that this time the American people want to have some certainty that we’re going to have the border secure and do better enforcing visas.”

This is, of course, absurd. The “provisional” legalization would be irreversible and the only political pressure that would be generated would be to upgrade them to green-card status (and eventual citizenship) regardless of the state of enforcement, because not to do so would perpetuate an evil, second-class, Jim Crow regime imposed by the Rethuglicans on the hapless campesinos (you can write the DNC ad copy in your sleep).

There are, it seems to me, three explanations for why Barbour – and others – makes the absurd claim that the amnesty-first-enforcement-later approach will work this time when it never has before. First, that he’s a fool. I don’t buy that for a minute; he been in politics for 40 years, including as chairman of the RNC and as a successful two-term governor of Mississippi.

Second, he’s lying. That’s slightly more likely and is certainly true of some amnesty supporters, but I still don’t think that’s true of Barbour. He talks about this with real conviction and in his own words, rather than simply regurgitating someone else’s focus-gouped phrases.

The final possibility is the most disturbing: He actually believes what he’s saying, having convinced himself that his fantasy scenario is true. I think this is the most likely explanation, not only for Barbour, but for Jeb Bush and for Schumer’s Republicans on the Gang of Eight and others. Unfortunately, that means the leadership of the Republican party believes in the immigration equivalent of alien abduction. While some members of the GOP establishment are indeed knaves or morons, many, perhaps most, are well-meaning, sincere, sane people who really, truly believe something that’s preposterous.

We don’t make public policy based on the claims of dianetics or palm-reading. But we may be about to pass a law based on their immigration counterpart.

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.