Four things conservatives should applaud in the immigration bill

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Since the immigration reform bill was unveiled last week, there has been a lot of criticism. Some concerns are valid. Others, such as the the “Marcophone” controversy, have proven to be silly.

A possibly bigger problem for conservative supporters of the bill? Democrats have been vigorously claiming that it’s a good bill. (If Democrats love it, there must be something wrong with it, right?)

Love it or hate it, this bill is more conservative than many observers might have hoped for. And this might ironically explain why Democrats are making such an effort to brand it a Democratic-friendly bill. In truth, their base simply isn’t going to be enthused about a number of provisions that Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, included.

There are four main areas where the bill has proven to be more conservative than observers were expecting, irrespective of whether they will ultimately supported it:

1. Border security. In 2006, the Secure Fence Act appropriated $1.2 billion (which many thought was an inadequate amount) to build a fence on 700 miles of the southern border. Much of this fence was never completed. This led border security hawk and former Sen. Jim DeMint (now head of the Heritage Foundation) to offer an amendment to the DHS appropriations bill in 2009 that would have mandated the fence be built by December 31, 2010. The amendment passed the Senate, but never became law, much to the dismay of DeMint and many other conservatives.

The new immigration reform bill contains $4.5 billion to implement border security. A majority of the border security funds go toward actual fence-building or maintaining a physical presence on the border — physical, not “virtual” fencing.

2. E-verify. Conservatives have long complained about employers hiring illegal immigrants and getting away with it. This bill contains tough e-verify provisions — potentially the biggest deterrent in the bill to future illegal immigration and illegal immigrants not eligible for legalization remaining in the US. This is significant, considering that many liberals and civil libertarians (for whom immigration reform is an important issue) oppose it. America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group, viewed inclusion of E-verify as a “trade-off.” The ACLU obviously is  not enthused about E-verify forming a part of the bill. But conservatives got it into the bill.

3. Obamacare. Congressional Democrats wanted Obamacare exchanges to cover all immigrants. However, in addition to putting all illegal immigrants who legalize under the same constraints as legal immigrants with regard to benefit-seeking (i.e., they are legally barred from seeking or receiving welfare), the immigration bill also prevents access to Obamacare. As Sen. Marco Rubio said on Fox News Sunday, “[T]hey don’t qualify for any federal benefits… This is an important point. No federal benefits, no food stamps, no welfare, no Obamacare. They have to prove they’re gainfully employed. They have to be able to support themselves, so they’ll never become a public charge.” This is a point on which President Obama was forced to concede, and a make-or-break point from conservatives’ standpoint.

4. Cutoff date. The cutoff date for eligibility to apply for legal status is December 31, 2011. But as the executive director of the aforementioned pro-immigration group, America’s Voice, told the New York Times“We understand the need for a cutoff date, but it should be 2013, not 2011.” As a result, this bill takes a more conservative approach and doesn’t make legalization an option for recent arrivals (who might have come here specifically to take advantage of potential legislation.)


This bill may not be perfect, but it’s worth reiterating that on several important points — especially those in the enforcement realm which has been of paramount concern to conservatives — it’s more conservative than it could have been — and more conservative than many observers expected it to be, especially in view of President Obama having comfortably won re-election, and Republicans having squandered what was an easy opportunity to retake the Senate.

Of course, the bill is a starting point, not a finalized document and there will be amendments to it. But these are important aspects of it that should please conservatives genuinely interested in fixing a broken system.

Matt K. Lewis