Whatever You Do, Don't Mention Cutting Immigration

By Mark Krikorian February 2016

National Review Online, February 25, 2016

I get why respectable Republicans aren't inclined to take her advice, but Ann Coulter nailed it, in August: "If they want to undermine Trump, take his issue." Meaning immigration.

But how? They can't "take his issue" with yet more promises to secure the border. Those promises are hard to take seriously after the Schumer-Rubio push for amnesty and increased immigration in 2013-2014, the McCain-Kennedy version in 2005-2007, and Dubya's initial foray that was buried by 9/11.

Try as they might, Trump's professional-politician rivals won't get any traction by either echoing or attacking his call for a wall and increased deportations.

But the public debate on immigration has moved beyond the simplistic "legal good, illegal bad" clichés, to focus on the actual level of immigration, most of it legal. Sen. Jeff Sessions has been instrumental in giving voice to public concern over excessive importation of foreign workers and its effects on jobs, government budgets, schools, assimilation, security, and so on.

This is where Trump was, and still is, vulnerable. As the New York Times story mentioned by Charles C. W. Cooke documents, Trump has made extensive use of guestworker visas to import foreigners to do "jobs Americans won't do," actually turning away almost all American job applicants.

Nor was this unknown. Reuters wrote about it in August. The Miami CBS affiliate reported on it in September.

So, to borrow from Ross Douthat, what are Trump's rivals waiting for? Why haven't they pursued this obvious line of attack, one that strikes directly at Trump's key strength, one that casts doubt on his desire to "Put American Workers First"?

Because they all want more immigration. It's hard to point out the disconnect between the call for "immigration moderation" in Trump's immigration platform (something he never actually says out loud) and his own business decisions when you yourself are in favor of immigration immoderation.

Marco Rubio is probably in the worst position. His bill would have doubled legal immigration for the first decade after passage (granting more than 30 million green cards in ten years, when you add in the amnesty). The Schumer-Rubio bill also would have nearly doubled the admission of "temporary" workers, which the Congressional Research Service identified as a driver of new illegal immigration in the future.

Nor has Rubio ever renounced this aspect of his bill. When asked at the debate last month in South Carolina, "Why are you so interested in opening up borders to foreigners when American workers have a hard enough time finding work?", he let forth a panicky cascade of non sequiturs so non-sequitur-y that I'm surprised Maria Bartiromo didn't just laugh in his face.

And, as John Fonte pointed out on the home page yesterday, Rubio's "first post-Gang of Eight legislative proposal is not related to enforcement but, instead, advocates more 'guest workers' and expanding permanent immigration" – the infamous I-Squared bill, that could quadruple H-1b visas and increase immigration in various other ways.

Cruz (whom I'll be voting for Tuesday) isn't in a much better position to attack Trump on immigration. True, his immigration plan includes "Halt any increases in legal immigration so long as American unemployment remains unacceptably high" and he's co-sponsored a bill with Sessions to dramatically limit the H-1b program. But in the past he sponsored a measure to quintuple H-1b visas, and even now doesn't call for actual cuts in immigration.

Jeb's inability to go after Trump on immigration requires no elaboration.

Conviction is surely part of the reason. While there is little support for increased immigration among the public at large (North Korea is more popular with Americans that increased immigration), there is widespread support for it among elites. I think that's probably the main explanation for Jeb and Cruz.

But – and perhaps I'm being uncharitable here – I think money is a big part of the explanation for Rubio's mulish insistence on ever-increasing immigration (as it as for Walker's unwillingness to do more than hint at immigration cuts). When a bill to increase immigration was being considered in 2000, Tom Davis, then a member of the House Republican leadership, identified the issue: "This is not a popular bill with the public. It's popular with the CEOs." He elaborated elsewhere on the importance of immigration to donors: "This is a very important issue for the high-tech executives who give the money."

But whether from conviction or calculation, the end result is the same – one of the potentially most productive lines of attack against Trump has been ignored by his opponents. Both as a matter of policy and of politics, "numbers clearly are of the essence."