Lust for Amnesty

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Anytime is the right time for amnesty! Border arrests are down–more confirming evidence, if any was needed, that illegal immigration into the U.S. from Mexico has slowed. According to WaPo:

Such a steep drop in illegal crossings gives supporters of immigration reform ammunition to argue that now is a good time to tackle the issue.

Hmm. Why, exactly, does the drop in illegal crossings make it a good time for “comprehensive immigration reform” (meaning a reform that includes some sort of amnesty)? If things are going well, why not keep doing what we’re doing, namely not tackling the issue? Do “supporters of immigration reform” not think the flow of illegals will pick up once the economy fully recovers? For years, after all, they’ve assured us that enforcement measures haven’t been working because immigration flows mainly go up and down with the economy–i.e., depending on whether there are jobs in the U.S.. Why not wait for job growth to return and see if the border is really more secure now (thanks to the fence and other enforcement efforts “supporters of immigration reform” typically oppose)?

What if border arrests were increasing–don’t you think the “comprehensive” promoters would say that this, too, makes it “a “good time” to tackle the issue? (The problem is spinning out of control! There’s a crisis!  Need to take action, etc.) It’s always a good time for comprehensive immigration reform, if you listen to its supporters. If it rains it’s time for comprehensive immigration reform. If the sun comes out it’s time for comprehensive immigration reform.

And not the kind of reform that sensibly waits a few years before proclaiming the border “secure,” apparently. That’s because, as I’ve belatedly come to realize, “comprehensive reform” isn’t about waiting. And it isn’t about securing the border. It’s not about law, but it’s also not about economics. Illegal immigration has a huge impact on the unskilled labor market–but “reform” is certainly not about that. Employers like a cheap, willing labor force–but  it’s not about helping the Chamber of Commerce either. It’s not about guestworkers, or biometric identification, or the optimal skill match, or emergency room medical care, or schooling, or Social Security contributions. It’s not about policy! It’s not even about the plight of illegals living “in the shadows.”  It’s all about politicians, and their inextinguishable drive to appeal to the growing Latino vote through the promise of near-immediate legalization or amnesty. The drive is powerful when the flow of illegals is increasing and also when it’s decreasing, when the economy is up and when it is down. As with other powerful, inextinguishable drives, waiting a few years won’t do.

But the hair-trigger speed with which “comprehensive” campaigners proclaim “OK, the border’s secure. We want our amnesty now!” itself demonstrates why they can not be trusted–not trusted, in particular, to pursue the enforcement half of the “comprehensive” bargain or to content themselves with whatever restrictions are placed on amensty.The urge to appeal to the fast-growing bloc of Latino voters is not going to go away, after all. As with other powerful drives, it will keep coming back after being temporarily satisfied. If an amnesty is restricted, Newt-style, to those who’ve been in the country for 25 years, ambitious pols can get ahead by demanding 10 years. If it’s 10 years, they can demand 4 years. If it’s 4, zero.

All the more reason to take note of today’s headlines and go slowly.

P.S.: The Pew Hispanic Center, whose senior demographer, Jeffrey Passel, is quoted by WaPo, put out a report in May noting a “new growth surge in late 2010” of “Mexicans in U.S..”  Complicates the picture! Too many stats like that might spoil the tacit (and not-so-tacit) campaign to use the declining influx of illegals to promote amnesty. (You can use a positive trend to spin a legislative campaign, or a negative trend. But you need a trend.)

P.P.S.:  Here’s how WaPo described the status of proposed immigration legislation:

Congress, comprehensive immigration reform has been sidelined, stuck between those who would not allow illegal migrants to remain and others who are pushing, like President Obama, to create a “pathway” to legal status, but not necessarily citizenship.

Notice how this paragraph buys into the premise that illegal immigrants will either “remain” or be “legalized.” That duality is prized by comprehensivists, who will argue, like Gingrich, that “you can’t deport them all,” ergo …. It’s also prized by debate moderators who demand righteously that candidates choose one alternative or the other. But it excludes the possibility of the third, middle alternative, which is simply “let them stay in the shadows for a while,” even though a) that is probably what will in fact happen, and b) it is probably what many Congresspersons, especially those who talk about enforcement or deportation, actually want to happen.

Why doesn’t any pol come out and say it? The Pundit Factor and the Pander Factor. Punditism requires that everyone engaged in running for office or writing about policy have crisp, morally clear solutions to all problems at all times. Preferably three point plans.  No waiting, no ambiguity.  The Pander Factor says that if you aren’t going to appease Latinos–which “stay in the shadows” certainly doesn’t–you might as well appeal to the enforcement enthusiasts by talking about deportations.  The middle option goes unvoiced (with rare exceptions).

Mickey Kaus