The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I’ve cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.
Is this the usual pre-election E.J. Dionnish wishful thinking–it’s all going to break our way!–or a realistic assessement? I’ve been worried that it might be realistic, which is why I haven’t written yet in support of Obama’s reelection. (Don’t rush me!) “Comprehensive” immigration reform–that is, the attempt to do border enforcement and amnesty at the same time–is a terrible idea. It failed before, in 1986–we got the amnesty but no enforcement, and another wave of illegal immigrants. The way to responsibly get an amnesty is to do the “enforcement first,” then wait a few years and make sure it works well enough to prevent future waves (when the economy recovers). Then figure out some kind of amnesty. We can always choose to let in more immigrants, as fast as the economy and assimilation allow, once we’re actually in control of the borders.
Luckily, I think Obama is BS-ing here. So I can support him! Mark Krikorian gives the basic reason Obama won’t be able to get an amnesty:
If the president does squeak out a victory, do you really think that an embittered House Republican majority is going to want to play ball on this, or that their constituents would let them.
That seems right. A realistic Amnesty Scenario would require House Republicans to fear for their own seats if they alienate Latinos. (Pro tip: Bidding for Latino votes, not policy or principle, is what this whole issue is about.) If Republican representatives, and senators, get reelected–which is what seems likely to happen–will they want to give Obama a huge victory just because big televised consultants like Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie say it will help them at the presidential level (as bigshot consultants have been saying for decades)?
And will it help them at the presidential level? Obama, not Boehner, would get to play the Lincoln-who-freed-the-slaves role. Democrats will be boastng about amnesty on Spanish-language radio for decades. Meanwhile, amnesty would eventually produce millions of new voters who’ll be Democrats for a generation at least. (Lack of amnesty, meanwhile, was actually helping reverse the flow of illegal immigrants, reducing the future pool of Democrats. If Dems can salivate at the prospect of goosing demographic trends, GOPs should be allowed to think about slowing them down.)
In short, the pressure on Republicans to cave seems unlikely to be persuasive. Betting the Iranian sanctions will work seems a safer wager.
Plus, there is an appealing halfway house well short of full amnesty: the much more limited amnesty of the DREAM act, which applies only to children brought into the country illegally as minors. Obama’s decree granting de facto “prosecutorial discretion” amnesty showed that the DREAMERs are quite popular. It also showed that that Latino community will likely be positively impressed with an amnesty that falls well short of the “whole enchilada”–e.g. a “comprehensive” amnesty covering all 11 million or so illegals now in the country.
That’s one reason Latino activists for years resisted passing a separate DREAM Act. It achieves the most appealing part of immigration amnesty while leaving “comprehensivists” the difficult job of convincing voters that they should legalize, not the studious children whose parents brought them here illegally, but the parents who broke the law–and millions of others who came here knowing full well what they were doing. (I’m not saying adult illegals don’t have an equity argument. I’m saying it’s a lot weaker than the DREAMers’ argument and that the DREAMers’ argument–“no fault of their own”–throws this weakness into sharper relief.)
If Congress passes a limited DREAM bill, in a compromise package that includes a bunch of enforcement measures (like e-Verify checks on new employees), Obama will claim victory. Latinos will claim victory. Republicans might even have achieved a victory (depending on how effective the enforcement proves to be). Win/win/win! I suspect that this sort of bill, outlined by Krikorian, is what Obama can achieve, though Romney is just as likely to achieve it.
P.S.: Obama’s Des Moines Register boast might help him in Nevada and Colorado, with their large Latino electorates. But will it play well in Iowa itself, which has had trouble with illegal immigration? Not to mention Ohio.