The truth about immigration reform and “amnesty”

It’s time to talk about “amnesty” because a portion of conservatives are claiming this is a defining issue and using it to justify their support for a far-left candidate (Donald Trump).

Let’s address a few things before a full discussion of amnesty:

  • Every Republican currently in the race supports doing border security first. The differences between all of the candidates on security are almost non-existent. Some may argue about trust, but the candidate with the biggest promises (Trump) is also the one who has changed the most positions and proven the least trustworthy. In 2012, Trump claimed that Romney lost the election because he was too “mean-spirited” towards illegal immigrants with his talk of self-deporting, which makes no sense given his current advocacy for mass deportation and harsh rhetoric towards Latinos. Also, Trump met with illegal immigrants in 2013 and assured them he supported their position. During that meeting, he also mentioned something that most people already guessed; Trump had a lot of illegals working for him as he built his hotels. Border security does not solve illegal immigration as close to 40% of illegal immigrants come to this country legally and end up overstaying their visas, but it’s an important step. Rubio (and others) have proposed security measures to track and reduce visa overstays.
  • People often use the word “amnesty” without defining it. Illegal immigration is a serious issue and debating it shouldn’t be limited to meaningless code words. Usually amnesty means simply forgiving a crime. Very few people support that, especially on the right. The people that say amnesty in reference to immigration usually mean supporting an eventual path to legalization for illegals. Thing about that, one that anti-amnesty people try to never acknowledge, is that it is a majority position among voters (including conservative voters). Most conservatives support a path to legalization for reasons to be explained shortly, which is why it’s silly to suggest that candidates who support this definition of amnesty (that is every candidate in the race except for known liar Trump, even including Ted Cruz) are betraying the base.

Why do most people support “amnesty”? It’s simple. There are currently 12-15 million illegal in the country. Illegal immigration has actually not been as big of an issue in the last few years because the Obama economy and increased border security has reduced the flow of illegals into the country, but it still needs to be addressed. There are only 4 proposed solutions for what to do with people already here:

  • The status quo: People like Rubio rightly point out that this is de-facto amnesty. People have been living here for years. Those people tend to work for cash, avoid taxes and rarely face consequences for their crimes. This is also not an acceptable solution because having that many people in the country that the government can’t identify is a national security risk that makes terrorism harder to stop. An alternative to this is self-deportation which suggests making life difficult for illegals so they choose to leave.
  • Mass deportations: This is essentially the Donald Trump proposal. It is neither conservative nor realistic. It would cost billions of dollars, require a big government program that consistently violated rights by essentially going door to door, and it is likely to be about as successful as most big government programs. Can you imagine authorities going door to door and putting people in temporary camps to determine whether to send them to foreign countries? This just isn’t a feasible option. It’s basically like promising people a unicorn.

That only leaves two solution, both of which qualify as amnesty according to the definition mentioned above:

  • Path to legalization without citizenship. This would essentially mean illegal immigrants that have not committed serious crimes pay back-taxes and fines in exchange for permanent legal resident status. Authorities can focus on deporting and getting rid of those that have committed crimes and enforcement of new violations. Their kids would still become citizens, but this is probably an ideal solution for most conservatives. It is Ted Cruz’s position. The complaint that some have about this position is that it creates a different class of citizens that can never fully assimilate, but that is a reasonable compromise.
  • Path to legalization with citizenship. This is essentially the same as option 3, but it would allow those illegal to eventually apply for a green card and citizenship. According to most proposals, it would be at least 15 years before any of them became citizens. This was the biggest problem most people had with the Gang of Eight. This is also what Marco Rubio is legitimately accused of flipping on. He moved from solution 3 to this one as part of what he saw as a compromise with Democrats (who controlled the Senate and Presidency at the time). The legitimate complaint about this option is it is very unfair to the legal immigrants who wait a long time to get here to have illegals cut the line. The much less legitimate concern is that amnesty is a bad idea because it will create all these new Dem voters and Republicans will never win again. This claim is completely ignorant and illogical. The argument usually goes that we are creating “15 million new Dem voters”. First, the number cited is ridiculous. Even if you do create a path, only a portion will actually become citizens (after 15+ years), and only a small percentage of those that will become citizens will actually become active voters. At most, we are talking about a few million voters in a few decades, which is not an amount that will significantly change elections by then. Second, demography is not destiny. It is true that Democrats currently dominate the groups that make up most illegals, but that does not need to be permanent. In fact. If Democrats are still dominating minorities to the same extent in 20 years, Republicans have no chance of winning an election regardless of what we do with illegals. As someone who believes in the conservative message and has witnessed countless immigrants become strong conservatives, I believe we have a strong opportunity to win over every demographic in the future. In fact, it shouldn’t be that hard to win over people that came from countries where liberal policies have destroyed their economic opportunity and limited their freedom.

There are certain things that all Republicans should and do agree on. We need to secure the border. We need to start enforcing our immigration laws, including putting an end to sanctuary cities and deporting all illegals that commit serious crimes. We need to fix our legal immigration system. Finally, we need to address what to do with the people already here illegally. We should probably address these issue in that order. However, we also need to be rational and honest about how we address these problems, including the last one. Simply yelling about “amnesty” doesn’t solve any problems, it simply is meant to divide and confuse people.

Last thing: Many of the people pushing against current candidates and supporting Trump are against legal immigration. They purposefully try to conflate it with illegal immigration. This has never been the conservative position, but suddenly many are pretending it is a well-accepted one. I am happy to have a real debate about immigration levels, but not one based on fear of foreigners or ignorant protectionism.

Someone on Twitter asked me to explain why I believe Rubio can be trusted on immigration after what happened with the Gang of Eight bill in the Senate:

Why you should trust Rubio on immigration after Gof8?

I think you have to look at Gof8 in context and understand what he was trying to do. Rubio has explained this himself on countless occasions. Rubio sees the immigration status quo as awful and dangerous from a national security perspective. Most people agree. At the time, Democrats controlled the Senate and WH.  Rubio has always looked at legislation as a compromise (thus why he votes for legislation with certain abortion exceptions even though he personally oppose them) so he knew any bill with Dems would have things he doesn’t like in it. Gof8 actually did have a lot of things that R’s wanted (major investment in border security, fair fines/punishments for illegal immigrants coming forward, deportation of criminal illegal immigrants, fix legal immigration etc.), but as negotiation went forward Schumer/Reid kept adding more stuff that conservatives would have a problem with. Rubio had already signed on and probably should have called it quits at that point, but he argued that they could fix when Senate bill was reconciled w/ House bill (which never happened). Perhaps this was naive on Rubio’s part, but it was also an important learning experience.

So why should you trust him now?

1) Rubio has almost the same position as Cruz and other Republicans. The one thing he flopped on for Gof8 is path to citizenship (vs. just legalization, which is Cruz’s position). Rubio now says he would be open to either one so it would really depend on what other Republicans involved in crafting the bills wanted.

2) The context has now changed and Rubio recognizes that and says that. Obama has shown he can’t be trusted to enforce, Americans have shown they don’t want a comprehensive bill (which is why he now supports separate bills with border security being 1st), and we no longer need to get a ton of D’s on board because they don’t control Senate. Rubio is listening to constituents, which is what we usually say we want from politicians.

3) Also, one point that isn’t given enough weight is because of perception that Rubio gave up too much in Gof8, he would in practice have the hardest time passing an immigration bill that conservatives are unhappy with. President Rubio would have to convince other Republican lawmakers to go along with his immigration plans despite criticism, which means he would need to make more concessions to conservatives as compared to a President Cruz (who would need to do less convincing) or a President Christie/Jeb (who wouldn’t feel need to get conservatives on board).

I think Rubio has been pretty straight forward about his thought process throughout immigration debate. At this point, you either accept what he is saying or you don’t.

4 Responses to “The truth about immigration reform and “amnesty””
  1. Alix says:

    I’ve had trouble making up my mind about the various immigration arguments. As a Republican, I favor Rubio but was still concerned with all I hear about the ‘Gang of 8’, etc. This article explains it all so well. I think legalization without citizenship seems the best and fairest way to go.

    I really don’t understand why some of the talk radio folk (Rush, Ingraham, Levin) are giving Trump such a free ride and helping him out by not talking about his past positions — and the constant ‘Establishment Republican’ bashing. I am particularly disappointed in Rush. It seems so odd to me — the way he’s being so unprincipled and almost wacky. I wonder if it has something to do with the way radio advertising has dropped in recent years and the advertising they get from Freedom Works types and maybe even some Trump based entity — who knows?

  2. Reblogged this on Public Secrets and commented:
    An essay worth reading on illegal immigration, amnesty, and Trump’s charlatanism.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this. I hope all the people who play the “amnesty” card without really knowing what is means will read it. I don’t see how Trump would do what he’s promised….but that seems to be what the talk radio people accuse the “establishment” of doing, promising things and not following through. It’s not true of the establishment, they just can’t do the impossible and talk radio and others use that as an excuse to push their agenda that is unattainable as long as Obama is in the WH. Using amnesty card against legitimate candidates, like Rubio, will hurt not just GOP chances to win the WH, but down ticket races, like House & Senate will be in danger too. Great job!

  4. Betty says:

    Very observant on the advertising, Freedom works has influenced Rush’s opinions for sure. ..Sad as I once enjoyed Rush.

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