As it currently stands, the immigration debate is nothing short of a disaster for conservatives. The "bipartisan" legislation amounts to little more than an amnesty, which will send the message that breaking our immigration laws doesn't matter. It has pitted leaders of what is supposed to be the conservative party in the U.S., the Republican Party, against the rank and file.
One of those leaders is President George W. Bush. I hate to cut the president any slack on this, but it should be noted that he has previously expressed a desire to expand the Republican coalition to include more Hispanics. Indeed, the GOP will have to appeal to more Hispanic voters in future to win national elections. Nevertheless, this immigration bill is not the way to go about expanding the GOP coalition. Fortunately, it now appears that the bill will crash and burn in the Senate.
As bad as things seem, there is an opportunity for conservatives. One of the current candidates for the Republican presidential nomination could both appeal to the conservative base on immigration without alienating future Hispanic voters. Here is the outline of the speech that such a candidate should give:
"Good evening. Immigration is one of the most contentious domestic issues of our time. It sets many good, decent Americans against each other. On the one hand, our nation has thrived on immigration. It has been a strength to have so many decent people come here, looking to better their lives, attracted to the opportunities our great nation has to offer. But immigration also has its ugly side, that of illegal immigration. Illegal immigration undermines the notion of rule of law, a crucial component of any democratic society. It taxes our welfare and criminal justice systems.
"Thus far, our government has failed to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. In 1986, the federal government dealt with the 3 million illegal immigrants by, in effect, 'giving them a pass.' It gave them amnesty, and the result was predictable: Today, we have over 12 million illegal immigrants. As any person with common sense will tell you, give the lawbreakers a pass, and you will only encourage more lawbreaking. But common sense is always in short supply in Washington, and today the elites in Washington want to repeat the past.
"Worse, they are attacking their opponents by calling them nativists and suggesting that they do not have the best interest of the nation at heart. Such attacks are scurrilous. Those who want to enforce our immigration laws want just that: enforcement of the law.
"I propose a different path from the one that Washington elites want us to take. Thus, I propose an immigration plan based on three simple principles: Security and enforcement first; guest worker programs second; amnesty never.
"Security means securing our borders. This means building fences where appropriate, installing other security measures like sensors, and beefing up the border patrol. It also means using computer technology similar to that employed by the New York Police Department in the 1990s. Called 'CompStat,' it enable the police to keep track of where crimes were most frequently occurring and to concentrate their efforts on those areas. Crime in the Big Apple plummeted as a result. We shall use similar technology to track where illegal border crossings most frequently occur, allowing border agents to concentrate their efforts and thus stem the flow of illegal immigration.
"Enforcement means that we will enforce the laws already on the books against illegal immigration. Proponents of amnesty say that we are not going to deport 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country all at once. That is a red herring. What we can do is reduce the amount of illegal immigration through attrition, by more vigorously enforcing our laws so that, over time, we reduce the number of illegal immigrants in this country. When we more vigorously enforce our immigration laws, we will send the message the breaking our immigration laws is not tolerated, and that will reduce the amount of illegal immigration coming across our border.
"Once we get serious about security and enforcement, then we can begin to institute a guest-worker program. But only after we get serious about security and enforcement. Thus, in my immigration plan we will only institute a guest-worker program no sooner than two-years after the security and enforcement initiative has begun.
"Immigrants who are here illegally at the present time will have a choice. They can return to their nation of origin within the first six months of my program becoming law. If they return within that time, they can then apply for guest-worker status. If they do not return and they are later caught, they will be deported and permanently barred from ever applying for guest-worker status.
"The guest-worker program will allow immigrants who can show that they have prospective employment to enter the country. They may stay for two years before they must either go back to their country of origin or show that they still have employment, at which time they can renew their guest-worker status for another two years.
"To implement the guest-worker program, we will employ the services of the private sector. We will do this, because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency is a disorganized mess. It is very poor at tracking immigrants who come to this country. Thus, the federal government will pay private sector companies that will help immigrants seeking work to find employment while also keeping track of the immigrants while they are here. The private sector will undoubtedly find innovative ways to ensure that guest workers do not stay here beyond the two-year limit.
"While the guest-worker program is secondary to security and enforcement, it is a vital part of immigration reform. It sends the message that people from foreign nations looking for work in the U.S. can do so legally. It says that the U.S. is as it has always been: a land of opportunity for those immigrants who are willing to work hard and play by the rules. Immigrants who have come to the U.S. for such opportunity have been and will continue to be a source of strength for this nation.
"Finally, let me assure the American people that my immigration reform will contain no amnesty. Those who have come here illegally will not find this reform turning a blind eye to their decision to break the law. As noted above, they must either return to their country of origin or face the consequences. That is what is meant by the principle of 'amnesty never.'
"It is time for this nation to have immigration laws worthy of the name. It is time to get serious about border security and enforcing the laws against illegal immigration. And it is time to construct a program for those immigrants genuinely seeking opportunity in this great nation. Let us work toward those goals. Thank you, God bless, and good night."
The candidate for president who steps forward and gives a similar speech will turn the immigration issue to his advantage. Which one will take the initiative?
David Hogberg is a Washington writer and host of the website Health Hog.
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