In the aforementioned Luntz article in the Washington Post, the author noted that a popular myth regarding the conservative voter is that they all support the deportation of illegal immigrants. However, it is exactly that- a myth. There is a fundamental difference, however, when it comes to the proposed solutions to the problem. Illegal immigration affects border states more than other states, but every state has illegal immigrants residing within their borders. The Obama solution is one of having a blind eye and wink and nod towards the situation in the name of “other priorities.” In effect, they have no immigration policy.
Admittedly, according to every poll I have seen, immigration reform lies somewhere around #6 on the list of priorities in this year’s election. However, it is still a ticking time bomb that will only get worse the more it is ignored. More importantly, the sometimes heated rhetoric on either side of the issue sometimes obscures the issue and solves nothing and serves no other purpose than to portray the other as “weak” or “bleeding heart” or “cold-hearted.” I have written in the past that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why enhancing border security cannot work hand-in-hand with addressing those already here through reform of our immigration laws. The “do this first” attitude is more akin to two kindergarten children fighting over a soccer ball on a playground. And is understandable to a certain degree: past attempts at “amnesty” have only made the problem worse. Most point IRCA and the Reagan amnesty, yet the number of people affected in that program was actually lower than the many amnesties granted under Clinton. But, that is the past and a past all sides need to let go.
But first, a well thought out and well articulated immigration policy should not be an attempt to pander to a segment of the population in a particular state, namely the Hispanic vote. A good immigration policy should cut across ethnic or ideological lines. Perhaps I have a more naive and utopian view of the electorate- one that does not view any group as bleating sheep being led to the polls (well, except maybe unions and blacks). The more radical Hispanic organizations are quick to voice the “threat” that they are the fastest growing segment of the population. While that may be true, they still do not represent some monolithic voting bloc. They, like any other group, may- given a swing here or there,- change the result in a close state. But, the formulation of a workable immigration policy should not entail pandering to the Hispanic vote. While Hispanics may represent 18% of the population nationally, they still represent only 9% of the electorate. Hence, a reasonable policy now lays the groundwork for those future Hispanic voters who will be more important in the future. Perhaps that is why Obama insists on putting the issue off into the future. Likewise, it creates an opening for the Republican Party and Romney to exploit now. Just weakening the Hispanic vote for Obama in 2012 in certain states- not outright winning it- can change the dynamic and bring states not in play currently into play.
But first, Romney needs to distance himself from the notion of mass deportation of those currently here. It is estimated that this would cost us $285 billion over five years to achieve. Considering that the current budget for immigration enforcement is $15.5 billion, it would require a 400% increase in spending in this area. Regardless, the mainstream conservative does not support mass deportations. Fortunately, we have a starting point for rational reform. Illegal immigration from our southern border was not always a problem in this country.
At one time, we had what was known as the Bracero program. Under this program instituted in response to the need for agricultural workers after World War II, we allowed the immigration of workers provided they had an employer sponsor. During the life of the program, illegal immigration decreased 95%. That strategy was changed in 1964 when we moved away from a policy of allowing immigration to meet economic needs to a policy of family reunification. Additionally, the employer sponsorship requirements led to widespread abuse of workers. Also, the 1964 shift was part of a Cold War strategy by opening the borders to people running from communism and and social upheaval in Latin America. This transformation in policy neglected labor needs which created the problem that exists today. The reinstitution of a Bracero type program with portable three-year visas without employer sponsorship would allow for an orderly immigration of workers from Latin America to the United States and a recycling of workers. If we were to allow the legal entry of workers on such visas, it would legalize about 400,000 workers per year and establish some circularity in immigration. Today’s illegal immigrant is more apt to stay here longer than the legal immigrant admitted under the Bracero program.
Secondly, border security must go hand-in-hand with visa reform. Incidentally, I hear so much about strengthening security on our southern border, but rarely do I hear conservatives arguing that Mexico needs to strengthen their northern border. Perhaps one national security issue to be discussed should be less about keeping illegal immigrants out of the country at the southern border and more about Mexico doing more to keep their population in their country. To strengthen the border, obviously increased patrols are necessary and immediate repatriation a necessity. Additionally, although I have my doubts about the efficacy of fencing and barriers- economic hardship will only force them elsewhere- we should not dismiss it out of hand and build them wherever they are feasible.
The most troublesome aspect is what to do with the illegal immigrants already here. The first part is to identify and locate those who overstayed visas and deal with them through expedited deportation proceedings. Since the last “amnesty” under Reagan, the US has averaged 950,000 immigrants per year with 200,000 of them being illegal. It is estimated that the Reagan amnesty legalized 2.7 million immigrants. However, it should have ended there. Under adjustments under IRCA and other laws under Clinton, his Administration granted amnesty to 3.1 million illegal immigrants. As for the others, we can decrease the amount to be deported by, in effect, offering a path to citizenship through granting a provisional visa.
Only those here long term- say 10 years or more- would be allowed to participate. Additionally, they would have to prove employment and have community sponsorship (time for the Catholic Church to put up or shut up), have English language proficiency, and pass a criminal background check. They would then be placed on a five-year probationary period after which, assuming they remained model citizens, they would be granted citizenship. Most will correctly argue that this is unfair to those waiting to enter the country legally. But then again, we need to speed up that process also.
Finally, we need to enhance employer sanctions against those who repeatedly and knowingly continue to hire and use illegal workers. That includes using more boots on the ground by using, where feasible, local and state law enforcement. The federal government should embrace these efforts, not fight them in the courts. We need to increase fines against employers up to and including taking their business assets for the most egregious of offenses. We need to demand that employers use E-Verify.
In reality, conservatives and moderates do not frown upon immigrants as a group. However, they do see a government that has sat on the sidelines for too long and a Democratic President that has done nothing to prevent illegal immigration, other than interfere in the efforts of states to address the problem they refuse to address. A very small, but sometimes very vocal, minority of the population actually supports a mass deportation policy. In the end, a large portion of the conservative and moderate community supports a policy of, as Luntz states, “tall fences with wide gates.” It is a policy that will resonate with the more rational sentiments in the Hispanic community, if not the entire electorate. If nothing else, it is a 100% improvement over anything Obama has proposed, which is essentially nothing.