The Corner

Re: Marco Rubio, Rush Limbaugh, and the Crux of the Matter — Round 2

Mark, the most important of the various points you make is your belief that we can’t solve the problem of illegal immigration “in our generation or any other.” I disagree. The problem of illegal immigration only continues to exist because of a powerful economic magnet, namely that illegal immigrants think they can find work here — illegally and easily.

Modern technology permits us to dramatically weaken that magnet. With universal E-Verify and similar schemes, getting a job illegally could quickly become so risky, costly, and complicated that illegals would start self-deporting and new ones would stop coming. You may be prepared to give up on the problem, and “manage” the current de facto amnesty. I am not. I think this problem can be solved. 

You say you’re confused that I support “comprehensive” reform — but I have not used that word to describe the Rubio plan. It is not comprehensive reform in the sense you mean, but rather more of an “incremental” approach like what you and others have advocated. It does connect various increments in an coherent way, but you pretty much have to do that because the problem is so multidimensional. 

I’d be inclined to agree with you that border security and employment verification need to be implemented before any sort of status reform. The problem is that once you implement universal E-Verify (preferably market-based, as Gingrich has proposed) it could actually work, and fast. Arizona lost one-third of its illegal immigrant population within three years of implementing E-Verify in 2006. (That, by the way, is what Romney was talking about when he advocated the “Arizona approach”; he wasn’t talking about the much later SB 1070).

Then what do you do? That’s not a question to be breezily dismissed with “there’s no shortage of unskilled labor.” If a million workers in Texas suddenly leave their jobs, tens of thousands of businesses will just vanish.  

The major reason why only a handful of states have adopted E-Verify is opposition from the business lobby. If you can provide those businesses a way to keep the labor they need and can’t easily replace, then the economics will ensure a high rate of registration even if you impose very onerous fines for temporary work permits. A nominal fine is amnesty. A really onerous one is punishment, especially compared to the de facto amnesty that naysayers are in effect advocating.  

There’s a lot of sense in Rubio’s proposal. And considering that the source is someone conservatives rightly look to as a rising leader, perhaps critics should engage in a more constructive way, rather than dismissing the proposal out of hand on first inspection. We don’t have a piece of legislation yet. Let’s make sure that when we do, it’s something conservatives can support. 

Mario Loyola is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the director of the Environmental Finance and Risk Management Program of Florida International University, and a visiting fellow at the National Security Institute of George Mason University. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone.


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