Another poorly designed amnesty/normalization/ guest-worker program could do significant damage to the Republican Party nationally. Immigration gateway states such as Texas, Nevada, and Georgia could easily shift more Democratic; over the past few cycles, Republican presidential candidates have done only marginally better in Georgia than George H.W. Bush did in California in 1988, so political reversals can happen quickly. Moreover, an anti-worker immigration bill, passed with Republican support, could further disillusion middle-class voters with the GOP, suggesting that Republicans really had no interest in solving this nation’s various labor crises.
Immigrants have played a noble role in the American national narrative, and the clarion call of opportunity in the United States is and ought to be a treasured national tradition. One can certainly understand from a human perspective the plight of many illegal immigrants, driven by poverty in their own lands to foreign shores. Now is not the time to demonize other people or to cast reckless aspersions. Sensitive issues — and immigration surely is such an issue — warrant sensitivity. But they also warrant prudence and honesty. Americans have every right to demand that the legislation passed by their representatives benefit the body politic. They have every right to subject any proposal to a sustained and rigorous interrogation. Republicans have every right to work to ensure that seemingly “comprehensive” immigration measures do not simply update the problems of the present and the shortcomings of the past.
The GOP’s failure at the polls in 2012 does have a silver lining: it presents the Republican Party with the opportunity to rally behind pro-market policies that help workers and the middle class. In the face of years of stagnating incomes and a declining sense of security on the part of the middle class, Republicans could argue for a kind of economic uplift that rewards effort, talent, and virtue. Rather than pitting immigrant against immigrant and native-born worker in a race to the bottom of wages, this kind of economic model would try to offer prosperity to all by having a market where labor is valued and opportunities abound. A poorly designed immigration bill, however, could short-circuit this dynamic by initiating a flood of cheap and government-subsidized workers who would put further pressure on wages and on government finances. Rather than economic renewal, we could get an intensification of the present poor job market.
A poorly designed piece of “comprehensive immigration reform” would in many respects be far more radical and consequential than anything the president has yet signed — bigger than the stimulus, more revolutionary than Obamacare. Even a trillion dollars in misguided spending can be made up for by financial prudence in the future, and Obamacare can always be revised. This is not the case with an immigration amnesty. Once an amnesty is passed, the bell cannot be unrung. A bad piece of law can be repealed, but the amnesty will be with us forever. And the consequences of a flawed amnesty could undermine the necessary conditions for a renewal of the economy, the middle class, and the future of limited-government conservatism. There are two points Republicans ought to keep in mind when negotiating over a comprehensive immigration reform measure or any other immigration normalization/amnesty: Is it good for the party, and is it good for the country? (Obviously, the second point merits much more moral and intellectual weight.) There are reasons for Republicans to be skeptical on both counts.
Fred Bauer is a writer from New England. He blogs at A Certain Enthusiasm, and his work has been featured in numerous publications.