For better or for worse, GOP bigwigs are changing their tune on the issue of illegal immigration.
Republicans in both houses of Congress are now working on plans to legalize many of the estimated 11 million illegal aliens, and even conservative talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh turned his microphone over to Florida Senator and GOP rising star Marco Rubio this week to pitch the idea.
And that shouldn’t come as a surprise to most political observers. In the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat in November – and the significance attributed to the margin by which he lost Hispanic voters – it was only a matter of time before the drumbeat for some form of amnesty would begin in Republican circles.
Many in the GOPs permanent political class are, after all, looking for a scapegoat to blame for 2012. And they seem to have settled on their bogeyman: Conservatives, specifically the subspecies opposed to illegal immigration (news that no doubt came as a relief to religious, anti-abortion types who normally receive this honorable designation).
While we think it’s overly simplistic, and frankly a little disingenuous to suggest that Republicans lost the election because of their position on immigration (particularly when polling data suggests that the issue was a pretty low priority for most voters, including Hispanic ones), we concede that that public opinion has shifted on the issue since, say, 2006 – back when Democrats were trying to convince the public that they were anti-illegal immigration too.
Either way, it appears that this train is leaving the station, and we have no doubt that plenty of Republicans will be on board when it does – particularly with leaders like Senator Rubio promising to drive a hard bargain.
“[Enforcement] is a bright line for most of us that are involved in this effort,” said Rubio. “Unless there is real enforcement triggers, we are not going to have a bill.”
That’s encouraging. But as good as it sounds, we hope Republicans remember to read the fine print.
The last time Americans were promised enforcement in exchange for amnesty was 1986, when there were a “mere” 2 million illegal aliens here. We got the amnesty, but we never got the enforcement, and that 2 million illegal immigrants has become more than 11 million today.
Lawmakers must also ask serious questions about the vague assurances put forth by amnesty proponents.
We are told, among other things, that illegal immigrants will be required to pay a fine, and remit back taxes. That also sounds nice, but what about the details?
Will that fine be comparable to the steep filing fees that the legal immigrants waiting patiently to enter our country are asked to pay? Or will illegal immigrants be given a discount along with their pass to front of the line?
How will those back taxes be calculated? We are going to go out on a limb and assume that unscrupulous employers who flouted the law and hired illegal immigrants probably didn’t keep meticulous records of salaries or withhold payroll taxes. And even if they did, we seriously doubt they’ll be particularly eager to hand that incriminating evidence over the federal government – unless they get amnesty too.
Lawmakers must also remember that many illegal immigrants did not cross the southern border. Nearly half entered the country legally and then overstayed their visas. Many may see no risk in handing a green card over to a Mexican campesino — but what about the Saudi wahhabist with the expired student visa, or the Palestinian who came here on a seasonal work permit and decided not to go home after his summer job at Disneyland ended?
For the record, we think amnesty is a bad idea. Mainly because it is so terribly unfair to those people who have spent thousands of dollars and in some cases years of their life to immigrate to this country the right way. Indeed, many of those aspiring legal immigrants are waiting in their home countries right now for visa interviews – even as American politicians engage in a real-time bidding war to see who can offer the most generous terms to the scores of illegal immigrants who came here the wrong way.
We hope that the urge to make thoughtful policies will trump the desire among some lawmakers in Washington to simply “deal with immigration” as quickly as possible. Our advice to Senator Rubio and others seeking to revise our immigration laws is that they proceed with caution, and that they insist that any final bill include tangible enforcement mechanisms. Otherwise we will find ourselves in this same untenable position ten years down the road.