This is the best scam they can come up with?

Mickey Kaus | Columnist

Dud Con II: Immigration reform watchers have been waiting to see how the GOP leadership tries to package legislation to trick anti-amnesty conservatives into voting for what in essence is an amnesty.** Curiosity grew after House Judiciary chair Bob Goodlatte gave the impression that the leaders were preparing some sort of “enforcement first” approach — or at least preparing to pretend they were proposing an “enforcement first” approach:

If we can have a way to get [immigration enforcement] up and operating, I see no reason why we can’t also have an agreement that shows how people who are not lawfully here can be able to be lawfully here.” [E.A.]

The problem for Republican lobbyists–whose clients would deeply appreciate the surge of cheap labor an immigration bill could provide–is that Democrats will not agree to any bill that actually requires enforcement measures (like an E-verify employment-check, or a system to catch visa overstayers, or a fence) to be “up and operating” before legalization. They want legalization now — both to please their constituents and to allow them leverage against enforcement later, once legalization has been pocketed. (Yes, they offer some other policy rationales. These fall apart on inspection.)

So how were Boehner & Co going to sell “legal status first” plan as an “enforcement first plan”?

Now we know: By pretending that legal status isn’t legal status. That’s something that not even the famously deceptive Senate Gang of 8 tried.

According to amnesty champion Paul Ryan, illegal immigrants would at first get “probationary status” along with a “work permit.” They could come ‘out of the shadows’ and live and work here. Then if measures are taken so the “border is secured” they’d get a “regular work permit.”

The idea, WaPo‘s Greg Sargent says, seems to be that “Undocumenteds will be allowed to work on probation while the border is being secured, but will not enjoy legal status.”  Why not? Apparently because their “probationary” permits might not be permanent — the immigrants “could be kicked off of probationary status if certain security benchmarks aren’t met.”

This is a joke.

a) Anything that allows formerly illegal immigrants to “be able to be lawfully here,” as Goodlatte put it, is legal status, even if it’s “probationary”legal status.  The Ryan plan gives this legal status — ability to live and work here — instantly, rewarding people who immigrated illegally with the main thing they were after (and, by that example, encouraging more illegal immigration in the future).

b) Nobody is going to re-illegalize previously legalized illegals if border security goals aren’t met, because it would be absurdly cruel (as Democrats, among others, will argue) to punish them just because the government didn’t, for example, implement an E-Verify system fast enough. Even if they lost probationary their work permits they would almost certainly not be deported. … I’m not even sure it would be constitutional to deprive them of legal status because of something they had no control over. (Supreme Court case to come.)

The idea is so bad there is zero chance the provision would even make it into final legislation after House-Senate talks. The entire purpose of Ryan’s exploding cigar legalization provision is to give House conservatives a reason to say immediate legal status isn’t somehow really immediate legal status.

c) Even if you accept its terms, Ryan’s scheme doesn’t satisfy Goodlatte’s promise, since it allows illegals to “be lawfully here” before enforcement measures are “up and running.” Someone forgot to give Goodlatte the script.

d) Democrats, ethnic groups (La Raza) and civil libertarians (ACLU) would still be able to pocket the immediate work permits and then try to undermine enforcement measures from a position of strength — secure in the knowledge that the work permits were never going to actually be taken away.

Really, this is the best they could come up with? I’m beginning to worry about the lack of ingenuity among America’s skilled legislative con artists. Maybe we need to import some better ones from abroad — a sort of “guest lobbyist” program. (H-1K visas.)

What’s wrong with a straight Enforcement First, Legalization Second approach, anyway? The undocumented have been waiting ‘in the shadows’ for 25 years. They can wait 5 more while we implement a few measures to prevent another surge of additional undocumenteds (like the one that came after the 1986 amnesty).

It’s no answer to say that the Democrats won’t go for that. It’s certainly not an answer Republicans have to accept.

Backfill: See Allahpundit and P.J. Tatler (“Paul Ryan has an immigration plan. It’s awful.”)


**–More accurately, the idea is to allow GOP congressmen to con their conservative constituents into not rebelling against them when they vote for what is in essence an amnesty.

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