Immigration Reform: Politics or Policy
To committed Democrats, immigration reform equals voter registration. To serious Republicans, immigration reform equals law enforcement. The battle has been joined.
The opening salvo in the immigration reform debate occurred with the appearance of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of Senators who outlined a set of principles for reform at a Capitol Hill press conference. It was a rare display of goodwill and cooperation.
The next day President Obama flew off to Las Vegas, the crown jewel of one of his favorite swing states, to unveil his take on immigration reform. He echoed the principles of the Gang of Eight and urged swift Congressional action.
Beneath the principles of immigration reform rests the true goal of the entire effort – – how to capture millions of new voters. The Democrats see the race for voters as a rare chance to wrap up the Hispanic vote once and for all. They aim to make this growing demographic a permanent part of the Democratic majority.
Republicans hope to recover from the defeat of last November when Obama won 70 per cent of the Hispanic vote. Ever since November the Republican Party has been tied in knots agonizing over how to court at least a portion of this key demographic.
The principles outlined by the Gang of Eight and Obama are similar. First and foremost is the so-called path to citizenship with stops along the way for legal status, a work permit, and a green card. To qualify, illegals must come forward and agree to a criminal background check, pay back taxes and a fine, and learn English.
Then there is the need for an airtight verification system to assure that employers do not hire illegals with stolen identities or expired visas.
Also, there is the lingering problem of what to do with the so-called Dreamers, the young illegals who were brought to this country by their parents. They received only a temporary reprieve from deportation last year when Obama unilaterally proclaimed his own version of the Dream Act.
Finally, there is the most vexing issue of all, the need to secure the southern border. Pledges of border security are like promises to cut federal spending. The promises come easy, but the results never materialize. Only about 40 per cent of the southern border is operationally secure. Regardless, lawmakers of both parties say that none of the subsequent reform proposals can proceed until the border is secure.
On the same day that the Gang of Eight made its announcement, Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, took dead aim at the fatal flaw in the entire immigration reform effort. Sessions noted accurately that the Obama administration has refused to enforce the existing immigration law, ruling by regulations that have banned deportation for all but the most violent criminals.
The Obama administration has been at war for months with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. They have protested publicly that the administration has tied their hands and made it impossible to enforce existing immigration laws that require detention and deportation.
This raises the central question of the entire immigration reform debate. No matter what the Congress passes, how can anyone be sure that the Obama administration will enforce the law? When the true goal is recruiting millions of new voters, why should anyone trust the administration to get bogged down in the details of eligibility for a work permit or green card, let alone proof that the border has been secured.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Gang of Eight, may be the key player in the effort to write a serious piece of immigration reform legislation. He is a possible presidential candidate in 2016 and a leader of grassroots conservatives. He can ill afford to be co-opted by either vote hungry Democrats or copycat members of his own party.
Rubio is quick to say that the nation needs to deal with 11 million illegals living and working in America. But he is adamant that true border security must be certified. Only then, he says, can the process began when illegals can step forward and seek legal status and a work permit. After that, he adds, illegals must begin the long process of applying for a green card and eventually citizenship.
Rubio emphasizes that these illegals must get in line behind thousands of others who seek a green card and the right to apply for citizenship. Throughout the process, he says, there can be no access to the benefits of the welfare state or eligibility for other government programs such as Obamacare.
The long struggle for meaningful immigration reform will be a battle between petty politics and serious policy. The rule of law is the only path to a long-term solution.