Lobbyists, on the march! The coming weeks will see the formal start of the GOP House leadership’s attempt to sneak an immigration amnesty through the Republican caucus and into law. We don’t know the exact details of the proposals, but we know enough:
1) There will be some form of legalization (conditional amnesty) for the 11 million illegal immigrants already here. It won’t give them a “special” path to citizenship, but they will likely be able to pursue citizenship through regular old channels. Either way, the message sent to potential future immigrants will be, “If you come here illegally, you’ll get to stay legally.” Plus, once the bill has passed the Democratic campaign to paint the GOP as racist for not granting general citizenship to the whole group will begin.
2) There will be an attempt to describe Speaker Boehner’s “piecemeal” collection of immigration bills as an “enforcement first” arrangement that will prevent another, future illegal wave despite the incentive created by what will be two successive amnesties. Since Democrats and Latino groups would never go for an actual “enforcement first” approach–e.g., enacting universal E-verify, an exit-entry system, building a fence and waiting a few years for legal challenges to peter out**–this claim will necessarily be a fraud, the framing of which will be a key challenge for Boehner & Co.. Presumably just saying “Hey we passed the enforcement part of the bill a week before we passed the amnesty part” won’t do, nor will letting President Obama decide when the enforcement mechanisms are sufficiently “in place.” That means a convoluted debate over “triggers,” the traditional playground for legislative legerdemain.*** Legalizers will try to make the prequisites look tough when they aren’t — certainly nothing that can’t be easily dismantled once the undocumented get their documents. Do not count on the press to correct this misimpression. They’re in the “fool the rubes” camp too.
It takes some chutzpah for Boehner to make his amnesty push now, given the sour jobs news, falling measured support for amnesty, and the need for party unity in the coming midterm elections. You’d think the employment news alone–almost 3 unemployed Americans for every available job–would cause savvy lobbyists to postpone any attempt to push for a massive addition to the unskilled and skilled workforce. (The Senate’s bill would add about 6 million extra immigrant workers by 2023 — in addition to the current illegals who’d be legalized.) Maybe that could fly in a boom. But now?
Democrats used to push for tighter labor markets–they’re the best proven way to lower poverty, boost wages and curb income inequality. Today, the job of pointing that out has fallen to Republican Jeff Sessions, who has been fighting the battle Democras like Byron Dorgan and Barbara Jordan used to fight. Do we want to give less skilled Americans millions of new competitors, inevitably bidding down wages at the bottom? (“Did they repeal the law of supply and demand and not tell me about it?” asks Jim Cramer.) The groups most marginally connected to the labor market–e.g, teenage African Americans–would be the biggest losers. Democrats used to understand this.
It’s a sellout. That’s a term I don’t use lightly. Certainly there are plenty of idealistic, principled advocates of “comprehensive immigration reform” — including true believers in open borders, advocates of immigrants’ rights, and ethnic champions. Even the employers who are providing the financial muscle behind the amnesty push may sincerely think spoiled American workers just aren’t cutting it anymore, that the economy needs better, cheaper, hungrier immigrants — heaven forbid responsible corporatist roundtablers should have to actually train those spoiled Americans.
But why are the politicians abandoning the economic interests of the country’s basic laborers, and the strong anti-amnesty convictions of their own constituents (in the case of most Republicans), and doing it at such an objectively inauspicious time? It’s hard to deny that cash is doing much of the swaying here. “[A]ll the money is on the side of pushing it,” one pro-amnesty Democratic Congressman boasted–money in the form not only of direct campaign contributions, as promised by Mark Zuckerberg ($50 million) and the Chamber of Commerce, but also future consulting contracts and lobbying positions for those who echo the line that Republicans just have to do this to remain viable. In any case, that latter argument–‘We’re not doing it for the money. We’re doing it to save our political hides!’–isn’t exactly an appeal to principle either, is it?
The only thing stopping them, at this point, is fervent opposition from the Republican base in a majority of House districts. It would be nice if a few Democrats like Joe Manchin (or independent man-of-the-left Bernie Sanders) had second thoughts, but don’t count on it. Sanders talks a good game, but where is he when the votes are counted?
If strong voter opposition makes itself heard again, as it has in the past, the majority of the GOP caucus that Boehner says he needs probably won’t go along with his pro- amnesty “principles.” If that opposition doesn’t materialize, some form of legalization-before-enforcement becomes an inevitability. The coming weeks will tell.
If you care, get your dialing finger ready.
**– An approach you could call Krauthammer I.
***– I’m also assuming that the trick in the Senate bill–which legalizes immediately but delays citizenship pending various evananescent enforcement triggers–is a non-starter now that legalization is all we’re supposedly talking about. But perhaps I underestimate the cunning of pro-amnesty lobbyists.