Alert: Immigration sellout underway?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Alert! The entire GOP elite seems to be trying to sell out en masse on immigration. Not only Boehner, but Cantor. And Hannity (who works for pro-amnesty world citizen Rupert Murdoch). Even Krauthammer. …

Maybe these people are convinced the larger GOP project can be saved simply by caving on just this one issue. That seems cracked.  The bulk of the Hispanic electorate appears to instinctively vote Democratic, and not just because of immigration.  (“[T]his is just a fairly liberal voting block.”) Maybe they can be wooed over to the Republican side over the course of decades. But by then there will be another wave of new, instinctively Democratic illegal immigrants (lured by the Boehner Amnesty) for Dems to appeal to. And the idea that the GOPs don’t have to change any of their other ideas if only they appease this one ethnic group (making up 10% of the electorate) is highly questionable, as David Frum has argued. … There were plenty of other reasons why Romney lost. (If he’d gotten McCain’s share of the Latino vote … he still would have lost.)

The larger point is that “Comprehensive Immigration Reform”–which is supposed to be a simultaneous combination of an amnesty plus enforcement measures–is a terrible idea. It’s a terrible idea if it helps the Republican Party win national elections or if it hurts them..** As with the 1986 “comprehensive” reform, we will get the amnesty but not the enforcement–after the ACLU and Chamber of Commerce are through undermining it in the courts, and the Obama Justice Department is through undermining it in practice.  The result will be (as in 1986) a new wave of illegal immigrants, largely unskilled, who will bid down the wages of the Americans and legal immigrants at the bottom of the labor market. These workers are the people most hurt by the big economic changes of the last few decades. If you want any American to be able to make a decent wage–even if they didn’t go to college–as long as they are willing to work full time, it’s a disaster. And even in the most optimistic scenario such an influx would test our country’s already depleted powers of assimilation.

A much better strategy would be to enact the enforcement measures (including a border fence and a system of employment checks), then wait a few years and see if they survive.  If they do, sure, come up with some kind of amnesty. You could calmly pitch that plan to Latinos–it ends in the same place (amnesty). But that’s not the sort of sensible approach you will insist on if you are part of a stampede of panicked pols and consultants whose only goal is to pander to what they think Latinos want to make up for their shortcomings in other areas.

P.S.: It’s particularly insane to think (as Krauthammer seems to) that we can have an amnesty that stops short of full citizenship. If we do, it’s the worst of both worlds–we get the full magnet effect, luring would-be illegals for whom being able to stay here and work is reward enough, while creating a distinctly un-American groups of second class laborers. It will never fly. Either Dems will immediately win the argument and get amnesty with citizenship, or over time those newly legalized will be allowed to apply.

P.P.S.: Just because the elite makes a mass feint toward amnesty doesn’t mean it will succeed. The grass roots may rebel (though the MSM will then try to portray them as crazy Tea Partiers). Boehner has already been forced to back down, at least in public, from his apparent surrender on Obamacare. The last big GOP elite push for “comprehensive” amnesty came from a Republican president, and it was defeated. The whole debate reminds of the late-60s fight over a “guaranteed income,” which Nixon and most editorial boards endorsed. Only an obscure governor named Ronald Reagan spoke out against it. He won. The difference is that with immigration there is a large constituency–Latinos, but not just Latinos–that politicians will try to rile and appease, and this constituency isn’t going anywhere soon.

Update–How to Save the GOP using one weird trick! In print, Krauthammer’s view is more nuanced. He notes the “Enforcement First” plan, which he says he has now abandoned because

 many Hispanics fear that there will be nothing beyond enforcement.  So, promise amnesty right up front.

So far, so OK. But instead of promising amnesty after a few years, once all court challenges are exhausted and relevant systems are in place, he would trigger amnesty

 on the day the four border-state governors affirm that illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle.

This is a sophomoric gimmick traditionally promoted by pro-amnesty types. 1) Immigration ebbs and flows. It slowed to a trickle during the current recession. It will pick up later. The temporary slowing isn’t a sure sign enforcement is working; 2) Border-state governors are often the most pro-amnesty. They’re responding to their own Latino electorates and chambers of commerce. They have to be good neighbors to Mexico. We’re talking Janet Napolitano (former Arizona governor) and Susanna Martinez and Jerry Brown. Even amnesty skeptics (Jan Brewer, maybe) will find themselves under irresistable pressure to pretend immigration has slowed; 3) This is a national problem. Illegal immigrants are now almost everywhere, as pundits assured us during the recent election.  You don’t delegate national problems to non-national decision makers. Would Krauthammer let, say, the governors of Michigan (lots of Arabs) and New York (lots of Jews) decide whether to launch a strike on Iran? 4) Illegal immigration is more than a problem of the Southern border, and pretending it is rightly offends many Latinos. It’s also a problem of visa overstays, for one thing.

Maybe you could come up with some sort of promise of future amnesty that wouldn’t be a gimmick. It would involve a long (multiyear) waiting period,  expedited judicial review, some objective measurements and an elected national decisionmaker, plus a chance for a legislative veto. I wouldn’t want Krauthammer to negotiate that deal–he’s already eagerly giving away the store. And it seems better to stick to enforcement measures (he neglects E-Verify) sweetening them with a narrow version of the DREAM Act. You can buy a lot of goodwill and good press with the DREAM Act while avoiding the potential catastrophe of a premature across-the-board amnesty.


**–I am not on board with the larger Republican project–I’m a Democrat–so I don’t have a dog in that fight. Republicans may discount my advice accordingly. But I could still be right! I’ve seen short-sighted consultant-induced Beltway panic before …

Mickey Kaus