Passions have been high lately regarding the push in AZ and TX legislating state enforcement of immigration law. On the one hand, every country, especially one facing hard economic times, has a right to reasonable immigration laws and to enforce them. Its simple and straightforward, and the economic impact on those who lose jobs they would have but for the illegal immigration are unjustly being wronged by non-enforcement.
On the other hand, though the recent measures enjoy broad public support, the intensity and duration of the opposition bears a terrible political risk of driving Hispanics, (and given inartful criticisms such as the usually much more savvy Malkin’s column this morning attacking Catholic bishops as “grievance mongers”) perhaps Catholics as well away from the GOP. The social conservative values of these groups should make them prime groups to add to the conservative column for years. But this plays right into the race-baiting Democrats hands, who already are chomping at the bit to attempt to use race to divide this country, just as they have been doing for the past 150 years. They see their golden opportunity and they will pursue it. Obama, the greatest race baiter of them all has already explicitly stated his plan to go after youths, blacks, and Hispanics to help soften the midterm blow.
So the big political question is how will the law be enforced? If it is seen as dividing families, or as Gestappo treatment and neighbors turning each other in, that will destroy, yes destroy a large portion of the GOP future, of the conservative future, as Hispanics will be driven to the Progressives.
Last, if you read the anecdotes of illegal immigrants talking about the Arizona law, it is striking how many plan to simply move to another state. This does not solve illegal immigration, it simply punts the issue elsewhere. So a more effective solution is needed.
So here are my keys for effective conservative tackling of the immigration issue – whereby we enforce our immigration laws, but do not commit political suicide:
1. If someone is arrested and scheduled for deportation, they must be allowed to take their family with them. Anything short of that is a PR nightmare and morally wrong.
2. Enforcement should be done with a race neutral implementation scheme, with clear criteria. Where the criteria are not met, deportation should not occur. Where legal immigrants are pulled over or stopped by police, there must be a credible implementation scheme justifying police action. Without this, the whole effort will be killed in the courts and come to a PR nightmare. These criteria must be clear to the public. The liberals will not be able to paint the worst pictures of the police and the state if they can show their actions in checking immigration status relates back to clear criteria and not arbitrary selections.
3. Conservatives must be ready, willing and able to rectify improper applications of the law. If a law enforcement officer abuses the law, or a business, or any party for a purpose of extortion or racism or some other insidious purpose, conservatives must be the first to call them on it, the first to explain why that is improper and how it differs from the intent and purpose of the law. We all know liberals paint with a broad brush, and unless we police those who would misuse and taint immigration reform, it will fail.
4. A national I.D. system is needed that cannot be easily cheated. This requires a database be created of all American citizens, all documented workers, and legal immigrants. A national I.D. card would be required to get a job, any job. Each person’s I.D. number would have to be verified against the database. Why would this work better than the current system? An ID that is difficult to forge would add an extra cost, at a minimum to those who sought to work illegally, and an actual financial deterrent to illegal immigration. It would facilitate enforcement of immigration law. It would facilitate implementation of the market based solutions discussed below.
5. As conservatives, we should have more focus on market-based solutions. The root of illegal immigration is more want than out and out vice. It is more profitable for immigrants to come here illegally than not, just as it is more profitable for those who employ them illegally to do so. When it no longer becomes profitable, the illegal immigration will stop. Enforcement is but a small piece of the puzzle. WIthout a market based solution, all such efforts will be like trying to throw buckets of water back into the ocean that keeps crashing on the shore. Some examples of such efforts include:
- Create a tax incentive to pay documented workers for the jobs that most frequently are worked by illegal immigrants. The system could be paid for by the taxes, in part, paid by the legal workers who would then be employed. Once it is more profitable to pay American workers, via tax credits or some other incentives, then illegal immigration will stop. This program could be paid for by the reduction in social services to undocumented workers and the tax revenue increase to the state of employing legal workers.
- By law, create a statutory right of even illegal immigrants to sue employers who do not pay minimum wage or other benefits afforded to American workers under the law. This may seem counter-intuitive to some, but the basic premise is you take away the incentive for people to employ illegal immigrants instead of Americans if the costs are at least as high. If the market dries up, so does illegal immigration. This has the added benefit of giving the conservatives a much stronger claim to the moral high road among the Hispanic population and those who are concerned about the humanitarian side of the equation. And, this will give Americans who want those jobs an equal economic footing to obtain that employment without being handicapped by the impossible competition of illegal immigrants’ willing to work for less than minimum wage or reluctant to call employers out on OSHA or other employee rights under American law.
- Generate economic incentives for those who immigrate legally that will weigh heavily on their cost-benefit analysis when trying to decide whether to risk an illegal immigration or follow the law. This could be done by either tax benefits, a faster path to citizenship, or access to social services unavailable to illegal immigrants.