Newt on immigration: Whaaa?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Newt on Immigration: Whaaa? Here’s the key paragraph in Newt Gingrich’s answer on immigration in Monday night’s debate:

So I think you’ve got to deal with this as a comprehensive approach that starts with controlling the border, as the governor said. I believe ultimately you have to find some system — once you’ve put every piece in place, which includes the guest worker program, you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that, frankly, reviews the people who are here. [E.A.]

Here is some instant reaction (subject to revision!):

1) A key word here is “ultimately.” Is Gingrich saying he’d wait a while–i.e. years–between putting “every piece in place” and giving out his Selective Service style amnesty? If the answer is yes, then his plan might be an incremental improvement on proposals like the “FEET” plan–which would wait eight years after enforcement measures work before talking about amnesty. The intervening years of effective enforcement would a) send a signal to the world that the immigration game had changed, counteracting the “magnet” effect amnesty inevitably has, and b) by definition prevent future generations of illegals from getting in even if an eventual amnesty made the idea more attractive. (The improvement would be that the amnesty wouldn’t be a blanket amnesty but a case-by-case review– though if there were any real chance of losing at the review stage few illegals would come forward.)

2) But there’s no particular need (aside from the political need to woo Latinos) to specify now what sort of eventual amnesty might be considered. You could just tell the illegals now living here that they’ll have to wait “in the shadows” while the borders are secured. Or you could say nothing. That would enhance the temporary deterrent effect of enforcement measures and lower the “magnet” effect of  “ultimate amnesty” talk. Gingrich seems to want to tie up all the loose ends in a nice detailed “comprehensive” plan befitting a world-historical thinker like himself. On immigration this impulse tends to get you into trouble.

3) Gingrich  doesn’t emphasize the time delay between the enforcement “pieces” and the amnesty, leaving the impression he’d like to rush from one (“OK! Border’s closed!”) to the other, without waiting, say, for the inevitable ACLU enforcement-weakening lawsuits to wend their way through the courts.

4) That impression is reinforced by his additional embrace of the Krieble Foundation’s “red card” proposal. This plan would apparently grant immediate, legal, non-citizen status to all illegals in the country who went home and obtained an easy-to-get guest worker pass from an employer.  There would be no “artificial limits on their number”–in effect, as many red cards would be issued as employers demanded.  The catch is that in theory a red card holder would then be required to re-return “home” when his or her guest worker pass expired in order to obtain another one. How many of today’s illegals–especially the one’s who’ve been here “for 25 years”–are going to take this deal? If they don’t, will Gingrich immediately offer them Selective-Service style review? If so, his plan moves a lot closer to a near-term amnesty.

5) For recent and future illegal immigrants, the key apparent features of the Krieble Plan–the unlimited number of “red cards” and the ease of obtaining them**–effectively means something close to open borders. Millions of impoverished workers now living abroad could flood the U.S. labor market legally. Krieble’s plan is similar to the Papoon for President drug plan, which would “eliminate all illegal drugs”  by simply making them all legal. Krieble similarly ends illegal immigration effectively legalizing it (“a country where there’s no more illegality,” as Gingrich put it).

And these unlimited legal “red card” workers would all return home, of course, right? And they’d be happy with second-class, non-citizenship status?

6) In embracing the Krieble plan, Gingrich fatally abandons the logic of “enforcement first,” which is that if you secure the border you can eventually have an amnesty–because the secure border will then be able to keep out future waves of wannabe illegals whom the amnesty will inevitably attract. If you really have a secure border, after all, you don’t need the unlimited Krieble red card plan, which would inevitably have a depressing effect on American wages (especially for the unskilled).  Instead, the secure border would allow a numerically limited guestworker program, big enough to serve employers without having a major effect on wages, capable of being increased or decreased as market conditions changed.

Why would Gingrich want to control the border and then allow open borders–effectively unlimited unskilled future immigration–anyway? The main point of “controlling the border” is to prevent that.


** — Only if the red cards were available more or less automatically, remember, could the Krieble people entertain the idea that illegals who are already here would return home to obtain red cards, and then re-return “home” after their legal work stint is finished to obtain additional red cards.

Mickey Kaus