Updated: March 2, 2013 7:41AM
Republicans are divided on whether to endorse comprehensive and bipartisan immigration reform. In an editorial Wednesday, excerpted here, the conservative National Review argued against any such grand bargain.
The idea that an amnesty for illegal immigrants is going to put Latinos squarely in the GOP tent is a fantasy.
No immigration reform deserving the name is possible without first enforcing the law at the border and at the workplace. Conveniently for Republicans, doing so is very popular — two out of three voters support building a border fence. There is no reason, political or substantive, for failing to do so. Securing the border is more popular in the polls than is amnesty.
About that word “amnesty.” Call it “regularization,” call it a “path to citizenship,” it amounts to precisely the same thing: a decision to set aside the law and to ignore its violation. And therein lies a problem for so-called comprehensive reform: Unless we mean to legalize every illegal in the country — including violent felons, gang members, cartel henchmen and the like — there will be of necessity a system for sorting them out. It is difficult to believe that the same government that failed to enforce the law in the first place will be very scrupulous about standards as it goes about dealing with the consequences of its own incompetence.
It is for that reason that broader reform measures must wait until credible enforcement mechanisms are in place. Those mechanisms include, at a minimum, a physically secured border and mandatory universal use of the E-Verify system, which confirms the legal status of new hires.
We very much doubt that Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, will achieve meaningful border security in cooperation with Democratic senators Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Bob Menendez and Michael Bennet. The less-of-the-same version being developed in the House with the support of House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan almost certainly will suffer from similar defects, since it appears to be based on the same premises. And the other party in this negotiation, President Obama, is even less likely to place enforcement at the center of his immigration agenda.
Rather than getting their heads handed to them in yet another grand bargain, Republicans should push for piecemeal reform through focused, narrow legislation. Sen. Rubio’s security measures would be a good place to start. Mandatory and universal use of E-Verify, together with improvements in the program, should have been legislated years ago. We should create a technological system for monitoring and preventing visa overstays, the source of 40 percent of our illegal immigration, to say nothing of the 9/11 plotters — although Congress has already mandated it six times in the past 17 years, and it’s still not done. Likewise, Congress passed a law in 2006 mandating that a double-layer border fence be completed; it has not. Which is to say, the executive branch is no more in compliance with the law than the illegals themselves. Congress should demand that the fence be completed in accordance with the law. Other reforms, such as making economic skills rather than the reunification of extended families the main criterion for legal immigration, also deserve consideration.
Sen. Rubio argues that a grand bargain is necessary because an enforcement-only bill could not pass the Senate, while an amnesty-only deal would not pass the House. But he is drawing the wrong conclusion from that stalemate: The better course of action is to fight for sensible enforcement provisions right now and let Democrats explain to an anxious electorate why they insist on holding enforcement of the law hostage to an immediate amnesty. There is no reason to make a bad deal for fear of losing a Latino vote Republicans never had.