The Borderline Spectator

An Unedifying Debate

"Immigration reform" and Senator Rubio's well-meaning but naive plan are dividing the right.

By 2.4.13

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Clare Boothe Luce is given credit for this insight: “In this world there are optimists and pessimists. The pessimists are better informed.” If La Luce were with us today and said this, she might be talking about the current highly political and way-less-than-useful back and forth about America’s chronic illegal immigration problem.

Some conservatives are praising Florida Senator Marco Rubio (and his seven accomplices) for his high-minded “principles,” meant to morph into legislation that would deal with our immigration mare’s nest. Another group of conservatives -- we’ll find out later which group is larger -- say his approach is little more than amnesty for those here illegally and, more importantly, an incentive for more millions more to come here illegally and be a financial burden to the federal and local governments.

The second group is made up of almost everyone who has spent any time thinking about how Rubio’s principles would work in practice. They see that his plan differs hardly a whit from the open borders dream the left has been putting forward for decades, and which failed when Ronald Reagan fell for it in the eighties. The first group is made up of large numbers of people who believe we really mean it this time about securing the border, and that this time Lucy will hold the football so Charlie Brown can kick it. 

Last Thursday I spoke with Rubio spokesman Alex Conant, who made a spirited and articulate defense of Rubio’s efforts. I’ve waited until now to write about defense’s arguments because I hesitate to criticize Rubio, a sound conservative who is so right about so many things (including opposing the bumbling Chuck Hagel for SECDEF). But after analyzing, poring over, re-thinking, sifting, and sorting the immigration gospel according to Marco, I can draw only one conclusion. It doesn’t begin to add up, as policy or politically.

What would add up, and quickly, is the cost of the army of new federal bureaucrats and document-stampers it would require to jump more than 11 million citizens of other countries living here illegally through all the hoops Rubio’s principles call for. We don’t have the administrative capacity now to keep track of citizens of other countries here on tourist and students visas -- which is why some estimate 40 percent of illegals here today are folks who entered the U.S. legally and then over-stayed their visas. 

So, to the nearest 10,000, how many new federal employees would it require to locate, check criminal backgrounds on, establish length of stay in this country for, determine how much federal tax is owed by, assess and administer penalties to, measure English proficiency of, a number of people that may well approach the total population of Scandinavia? And how much would flat-broke America have to borrow from China to finance all this? Conant concedes that neither he nor Rubio has any idea how many federal drudges these chores would require, or how much it would cost. 

“We don’t know,” Conant said. “It’s a fair question. We’re working up those details.”

Another fair question is, why now? The current president has demonstrated to everyone’s satisfaction that not only will he do nothing to staunch the flow of undocumented Democrats across the country’s southern border, but he will sue anyone who tries to (see Arizona). The southern border could have and should have been secured long ago. But it hasn’t been because previous Democratic and Republican presidents didn’t want to. Rubio says that nothing in his plan proceeds until the border is secure. So he has at least until 2017 to wait for that. Longer if a Democrat or a testosterone-deficient Republican wins the White House in 2016. Hell, Godot may turn up and the Chicago Cubs may win the World Series before this happens.

“We’re doing this now because the president won re-election and made it clear he was going to push for immigration reform,” Conant said. “So rather than just being against what the president proposes, we have our own plan.”

Fair enough. But save for the part about securing the border, and some boilerplate about preferring skilled immigrants over unskilled, the gang of eight plan sounds suspiciously like the “reform” bill Americans overwhelmingly rejected in 2007. It concedes that the 11 million citizens of other countries (or whatever the real number is) who have broken our laws to be here will never be obliged to go home. “They’re here to stay,” Conant conceded.

The “they” Conant is referring to are the millions of line-cutters who entered the U.S. illegally. Conant and Rubio must have skipped the first day of Psychology 101, where we learn about operant conditioning and how it is that we get more of the behavior we reward. Even criminal behavior.

So if Marco wishes to offer a competing plan, why not one that recognizes that secure borders and enforceable standards for citizenship are requirements of sovereignty and not hate crimes? This approach would be different from that of our current president, who’s not all that keen on sovereignty, at least not the American kind.

The country is choking on big, complex laws just now (see Obamacare). We don’t need more. If we had a political class with the will to enforce the existing immigration laws we wouldn’t be talking about this. But we don’t. Democrats want every possible future voter who can be bought with government boodle, regardless of how they arrive here. Too many Republicans toss and turn at night worrying that no one with a Spanish last name will ever vote for them unless they support bad public policy.

Is there no Republican official with the courage and the clarity of expression to put to rout the canard that any attempt to secure our southern border, or to oblige anyone here illegally to return to his own country, is anti-Hispanic? Democrats repeat this baseless charge, and the mainstream media act as a megaphone for it. But it’s nonsense.

Conservatives aren’t opposed to illegal immigrants because so many have Spanish last names. They’re opposed to them because they’ve committed a crime to arrive here, they make a mockery of our legal immigration system and stooges of those waiting in line to come here legally, and because too many of them are unemployable and become expensive government wards. Americans, no matter what their last names, can understand this, demagoguery from the left notwithstanding.

I’ll answer my own question. No. It doesn’t appear that such courage and clarity exists in the Republican Party now, on this and on a host of other issues. One of that party’s best is putting forth a Rube Goldberg gimmick that would accomplish, at great expense, the goals of the Democrats and of immigration indignatos, but would do nothing for walking-around Americans, Spanish last name or no. Way too many Republicans are clamoring to get aboard this train to nowhere.

Clearly the party that is supposed to be the loyal opposition is captive of the notion that if it doesn’t sign off on open borders and give get-into-and/or-stay-in-America-free cards to anyone the Democrats direct it to, then their candidates just won’t be cuddly enough to vote for. If Republicans believe this, what do we need Democrats for?

Photo: UPI

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.