Immigration Bill: Politics and Policy

Posted on June 1, 2007. Filed under: Politics |

I have heard more than once that the immigration bill before congress represents a “once in a lifetime” or “once in a generation” opportunity to reform our nation’s policies. This is touted as almost a reason in itself to pass it. The New Republic’s article, “Borderline Sanity,” (you need a subscription to read this, I think) makes this part of their argument for supporting the bill. But I think the former is a weak assumption and the latter is a pretty weak argument.

There will be many chances to reform immigration policies after this one. The country has changed immigration laws many times in its history.

I did some quick research to discern some of the specific reasons conservatives oppose the bill. I found one argument by looking at The Heritage Foundation’s website, put forth by the former Attorney General Edwin Meese. Meese says essentially that the bill gives immigrants a “get out of jail free card” by granting them a protective status after they come forward and pass a twenty-four hour superficial background check. Now, the bill I read actually says “one business day,” but anyway….

Meese argues that after the twenty four hour deadline, immigrants are protected and cannot be deported. And he’s right. It’s all there in the bill. But does that really add up to a “get out of jail free” card? They can’t get deported. But they will probably get fired–what employer wants to have a documented illegal on their payrolls? They could disappear and find another job, but now the Feds have their fingerprints. Where are they going to go for long? This is no free ride.

Now, with respect to the part of the bill that provides for increased border security, there is very little disagreement between left and right. I think it’s right to say that both the left and right believe that strengthening border security is a matter of national security. But that’s going down with the rest of the bill. Why has this part of the bill, which has almost no opposition, be tethered to the other parts?

Well, one reason is that President Bush wants it that way. He has been against an enforcement-only solution. He wants “comprehensive reform.” Why he believes this must be accomplished in a single bill is a very interesting question.

Immigration reform is not only an important public policy goal but also it represents a huge political opportunity. This country is becoming increasingly Latino. The party that helps large number of illegals become citizens could reap a huge new base of support in the coming years. Republicans and Democrats understand this opportunity very very well.

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