Cantor’s Mistake

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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“Muchas Gracias, Senor Cantor!” ** Famous ambitious positioner Eric Cantor probably thought he’d hit a Solomonic sweet spot last year when he dramatically announced his support of immigration amnesty for “the kids …  those who were brought to this country as children.” The MSM would predictably love it — compassion from a Republican leader! Yet conservatives might not hate him — after all, he wasn’t endorsing a general amnesty of all 11 million undocumented immigrants.*** And who doesn’t like “kids”?

Little did Cantor know that this exquisitely calibrated stand would prove to be about the most embarrassing position he could take  — when the “kids,” often unaccompanied, started surging across the southern border, causing a humanitarian and policy crisis just as he was facing a challenge in Tuesday’s Virginia primary. Even the New York Times couldn’t help but notice that the young illegal migrants said they were motivated, not just by conditions back home in Central America, but also by the prospect that they’d qualify for Cantoresque amnesty. “Central Americans, [said a Salvadoran immigration official] were left with the sense that the United States had ‘opened its doors’ to women and children.”

“If you make it, they take you to a shelter and take care of you and let you have permission to stay, ” Robin [a 13-year old] said after he stepped off a bus on a Thursday night with eight others caught on their way north.

President Obama — by reducing deportations and granting “kids” de facto legal permission through executive action — is mostly responsible for the more permissive atmosphere, of course. But isn’t that what Cantor wanted too? Potential immigrants pay attention to what Republicans as well as Democrats say — if you read the Spanish language press, you know the subject of immigration is covered there in depth and detail. (“That is what they are saying on the news, that if you travel as a woman with a child, there is an opportunity to get in” — Paulina, 29, to Arizona Republic.) And maybe Obama acted, in part, because he knew Cantor couldn’t really object.

The border surge dramatically undercuts the rationale for the Cantor “kids” exception in at least four ways. First, it’s obvious now that granting even “temporary” amnesty to any group creates a huge incentive for more of that group to come. Second, the border is clearly not secure enough to stop them. (Even if they get caught they may still be so numerous that they swamp our detention facilities.) Third, they are not “brought” here through “no fault of their own” or “unbeknownst to them” — many, like Robin, seem to be coming under their own power, fully conscious of what they are doing. And fourth, while Mexico’s birth rate is declining, we’re not running out of potential illegals — in this case, from Central America.

You could have predicted this. I did predict this. Democrats seem to be in willful denial about the incentive effects of amnesty just as in the ’60s they were in denial about the incentive effects of lenient treatment of criminals or the incentive effects of greater welfare benefits (which encourage people to do what you have to do to get welfare, including having out-of-wedlock kids). The difference is that in the ’60s there were plenty of Republicans around to remind voters of reality. But on immigration, in this century, half the Republicans are in willful denial too — including the House GOP leadership, which has fallen under the sway of gotta-please-Latino political consultants and deep-pocketed low-wage employers.

Still, you’d think the embarrassment of this latest surge  — with thousands of recently arrived illegals being shipped all over the country, obviously never to leave –would be enough to kill amnesty, at least for this year. But you’d have thought the slack job market would be enough to kill amnesty, and you’d have thought Obama’s troubles (and the chance for GOPs to retake the Senate) would be enough to kill amnesty. You’d have thought Marco Rubio’s precipitous drop in the polls, after he championed the “Gang of 8” bill, would be enough to kill amnesty. And you’d have thought the administration’s release of illegal immigrant criminals back into the population would be enough to kill amnesty.

But amnesty is hard to kill. It’s as if, at the height of the “welfare explosion” in 1970, Congress were seriously considering a bill to double welfare benefits — and Ronald Reagan was nowhere to be found.

P.S.: One way to kill amnesty is to punish Cantor at the polls. Here is the website of his anti-amnesty opponent, economist Dave Brat. Here is an independent SuperPac that is running ads against Cantor. Both need donations to counter Cantor’s lobbyist-supplied millions.

Backfill: See also Tom Maguire, who notes that many of the kids–especially from Guatemala and Honduras — do not seem to be fleeing violence, according to the UN. They “shared hopes for family reunification, better opportunities for work or study, or helping their families as a reason for coming to the U.S.”

Thanks to alert reader S.M.


** — “Muchas gracias, Senor Sasser!” was the punchline of a famous 1982 ad against Democratic Senator Jim Sasser. (In the ad the words were spoken by a cigar-smoking Fidel Castro look-alike.)

***–Though he did that too, soon enough. More recently, he’s back to emphasizing “the kids.”

Mickey Kaus