The Amnesty Delusion
Republicans are in danger of embracing “comprehensive” immigration reform — which is to say, amnesty — out of panic. The GOP does need to do better among Hispanics and other voters, but amnesty is not the way to achieve it. Our immigration system is in need of deep reform, but amnesty is not the first item on intelligent reformers’ to-do list, if indeed it belongs on the list at all.
All decent people have a measure of sympathy for those who, driven by desperation, come illegally to the United States seeking work to provide for themselves and their families. That they so frequently work at low wages in miserable conditions and that they are vulnerable to every kind of abuse is reason for deeper sympathy still. But the solution to their plight is not to abandon the law, any more than the solution to the plight of the poor in Les Misérables is to legalize the theft of bread. The rule of law exists to alleviate misery, not to mandate it.
We know from history that immigration amnesties encourage yet more illegal immigration, and the suffering and disorder that go along with it. The growth of an illegal underclass is in the long-term interest of neither the citizens of the United States nor those immigrants who aspire to citizenship. Stopgap measures such as “temporary guest worker” programs simply convert that underclass from de facto to de jure.
There are many steps we can and should take toward improving our national immigration regime. It should be easier for those with job offers — particularly highly skilled, English-speaking professionals — to gain long-term residency in the United States and to embark on a path to citizenship if they so choose. For those who are here illegally, especially those who were brought here as young children, our policy options are not restricted to amnesty or round-ups and mass deportations. Our most effective and most humane option is steady, consistent, judicious workplace enforcement. We do not lack the means to enforce the law, only the political will to do so. And even if our immigration system is broadly liberalized, the law still will need to be enforced. Non-enforcement simply is not a viable permanent state of affairs. Law enforcement would be as necessary after an amnesty as it is today.
Republicans who believe that amnesty would buy them an electoral advantage with Hispanics are deluding themselves. That Hispanics are a natural Republican constituency because of their Catholic and family-oriented traditions is wishful thinking. Hispanics are not uniformly in favor of amnesty for illegals — polls have shown that a segment of the Hispanic population ranging from a large minority to a small majority opposes the policy. Polls also show that a substantial majority of Hispanics support Obamacare, and that Hispanics voted accordingly on Tuesday. Those who see in Hispanics a potential bloc of socially conservative voters should consider that polls consistently find blacks to be slightly more anti-abortion than whites, but they are not exactly lining up behind Rick Santorum. There is very little reason to believe that Hispanic Catholics are any more likely to vote like social conservatives than non-Hispanic Catholics. For that matter, the majority of Hispanic evangelicals voted for Obama in 2008.
The amnesty signed into law by the charismatic and popular President Reagan did not bring Hispanic voters into the Republican party; Republican congressional leaders who believe that sending one to President Obama would redound to their benefit are engaged in a defective political calculus. Nor are Hispanics the only group of voters to consider. Blue-collar whites do not appear to have turned out for Republicans in the expected numbers on Election Day. Support for amnesty will not bring them back. If the policy advanced the national interest, that consideration might not matter. It does when supposed political advantage is the argument for the policy.
The Republican party and the conservative movement simply are not constituted for ethnic pandering, and certainly will not out-pander the party of amnesty and affirmative action. Republicans’ challenge is to convince Hispanics, blacks, women, gays, etc., that the policies of the Obama administration are inimical to their interests as Americans, not as members of any collegium of grievance. That they have consistently failed to do so suggests that Republican leadership is at least as much in need of reform as our immigration code.