The Magic Bullet for the GOP

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Attention, GOP Presidential Candidates**: We’re always told there’s no magic bullet to solve difficult policy problems. But there is something close to a magic bullet for Republican presidential candidates looking for a way to protect borders and wages without conceding Romney-sized losses among Latinos. The bullet is Enforcement First, with its implicit promise of Amnesty Second.

It’s all in the sequencing. First, take the necessary steps to block another wave of illegal immigrants. Once those measures (mandatory E-Verify for new hires, a border fence, a visa overstay system) have survived political assault and ACLU-style legal challenges then (and only then) afford compassionate relief to otherwise law-abiding illegals already here.

Enforcement First (let’s call it E1 for short) is another “comprehensive” enforcement-for-amnesty trade–as was Reagan’s 1986 immigration reform, as is the current Senate “Gang of 8” bill. But by putting the amnesty half second it promises to guarantee that (unlike what happened with the 1986  law) the enforcement part of the deal actually gets carried out.

Until then, illegals would stay basically where they are (in “the shadows”). Yet an E1 Republican candidate could assure Latino voters that there is an amnesty at the end of the plan.  Just not at the beginning. If all goes well it would happen by the end of his or her presidency.

Would that win a majority of Latinos for a Republicans? Almost certainly not. But the Republican strategic goal, when it comes to Latinos, has never been to use immigration reform to win an outright majority of Latinos, at least not anytime soon. The goal is to narrow the loss in presidential years–from Romney’s 70-30 to, say, 60-40–and open up the possibility of narrowing it further in the future. E1 could do that — maybe not as effectively as a total embrace of the Democrats’ plans, which legalize first and promise enforcement down the road.  But the embrace of those plans threatens Republicans with alienation of an even more important demographic group, the white working class. (Why? The plans would typically add tens of millions of new unskilled workers to bid down the wages of existing workers. And that’s assuming they prevented future waves of unskilled illegals, which they wouldn’t.) Some argue that this white working class alienation explains much of Romney’s 2012 failure.

E1 isn’t the best of both worlds for Republicans, in other words. It just offers more of both worlds than the alternatives. The GOP could have its cake (white “non-college” workers) and eat a greater share of the Latino vote too–all without accepting 1o million or so additional immigrants (over and above the 11 million legalized illegals) who will become mainly Democratic voters.

Oh, almost forgot– it offers one more thing: A way for Republican presidential candidates to get through the party’s primaries while saying the same thing about immigration that they’ll say in the general election.

Enforcement First isn’t anything new or especially clever. Lou Dobbs successfully promoted the basic idea (“Secure the Borders First”) a decade ago. It would be the smart political position to take even if it weren’t good policy. It’s stunning testimony to the power of the establishment press and pro-amnesty lobbyists–and the stunted imaginations of Republican strategists–that even conservative GOP contenders ignore this option and accept a rigged framework in which the only two possibilities for dealing with 11 million illegals are either a) instant legalization or b) deportations and permanent exclusion from American life. …

Backfill: Mark Krikorian’s more severe and detailed version of this basic idea is here.  He would put enforcement first, then trade amnesty for a reduction in legal immigration.


** —   This is a Kausfiles Special Amnesiac Item. Why do I feel like I’ve written it before? Probably because I have. But I can’t find it.  So I wrote it–again, maybe. If you can find an earlier version, please post a link in the comments section. Thanks.

Mickey Kaus