Amnesty, Border Security, and Conservatism

Illegal immigration, and the debate that comes with it, isn’t going anywhere. This became clear in previous debates when Governor Perry came under fire and was reinforced last night when Speaker Gingrich spoke these words:


I don’t see how the — the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century. And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.

This was followed by Governor Perry:

the real issue is securing that border. And this conversation is not ever going to end until we get the border secure. But I do think that there is a way. That after we secure that border that you can have a process in place for individual who are law- abiding citizens who have done only one thing, as Newt says, 25 years ago or whatever that period of time was, that you can put something in place that basically continues to keep those families together.

Somehow Governor Romney, who here and here was voicing approval of some form of amnesty, has some convinced that he represents the hardline on immigration. Not wanting to chase this rabbit, I will note that this is purely a political move by Gov. Romney rather than a principled objection. After all he’s “running for office, for Pete’s sake…

With this in mind I think it would behoove us to have an honest discussion about what we believe as conservatives and how this should shape our policies.


Before I go to far, I will state unequivocally that I reject blanket amnesty. As well I reject the notion of compassionate conservatism, as conservatism is itself inherently compassionate. That said, I understand the desire of some to add this descriptor since that inherent compassion is sometimes almost impossible to see in the debates that transpire on this complicated subject.

The argument against any form of amnesty, however limited it may be, has been summarized over the years as “enforcement first”. I agree with this, as far as I have understood it to mean stemming the tide of further illegal immigration and securing the border. But, I do not agree with what this simple phrase has morphed into.

I do not think practical, nor in keeping with conservative ideals [such as free trade], the idea of a complete border fence that spans our entire southern border. Additionally, I grow suspicious of those proposing this as an all encompassing solution to the problem of illegal immigration when they do not also require such a fence on our northern border. Furthermore, having established a secure border whatever that might be, I am skeptical that those who are currently against any form of amnesty would then support it in even a limited form. Instead, I believe the goal posts would shift. In fact, I believe that shift has already started to occur.


The calls for increased deportation, which President Obama has actually accelerated, would come under the more acceptable phrasing of enforcing the laws already on the books. I would point out that blind enforcement of those laws and not differentiating between the active criminal illegal immigrant and the passive illegal immigrant searching for that last best hope on earth, could do more to exacerbate, rather than solve, our problems on our southern border.

The questions I find myself asking; Are we, as conservatives, prepared to send a generation that has only known America as their home into a failed nation that is currently, and for the foreseeable future, being held captive by a murderous gang of drug cartels? And if we are, do we really not see that the consequences of such actions could lead not only to their death, which at that point would be the merciful option, but also to lives of enslavement in the service of these same murderous cartels? Further, having provided a captive supply of manpower for the effort, would this not also have the effect of increasing the flow of illegal drugs into America despite our best efforts to control the porous border? And finally, do we not see how this could also increase the desire of those who seek to flee north to again do just that, whether it be legal or not?


I would like to think that we are capable of the task before us, that we can have a realistic idea of what border security would look like and that we could then discriminate between the criminal and those looking for a better life and offer asylum to the latter who have known this as their home all of their lives.

If we choose to hold to the idea that we can simply deport them all, or allow them to self deport as some insist would be the case after securing our border, while ignoring whether the cost of doing so could outweigh the cost of them being here in the first place, I fear we would be guilty of appealing solely to our instinct, conservative though it may be. And as Russell Kirk, one of the modern giants of conservatism said, “A conservatism of instinct must be reinforced by a conservatism of thought and imagination.”

Aaron B. Gardner


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