No Limiting Principle

Well, in what will be four presidential/vice-presidential debates, at least there was one question on immigration. Last night’s question, like almost all the others from this group of “undecided” voters, came from a Democratic perspective, offering yet another new euphemism for “illegal aliens”: “immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society.”

Each candidate gave his usual line, but a few things were interesting:

  • Romney did not Etch-a-Sketch. He looked the woman questioner, apparently an immigrant herself, in the eyes and forthrightly said “we’re going to have to stop illegal immigration,” mentioning universal E-Verify and no driver’s licenses, and again endorsing attrition through enforcement or, in his formulation, “self-deportation.”

  • Romney again failed to tie reducing illegal immigration (let alone legal immigration) to jobs. There are probably 7 million illegal aliens in the labor force and reducing that number cannot help but open jobs for Americans and legal foreign residents.

  • Obama continued to spread the falsehood that the Republicans stopped the belated Democratic push for the DREAM Act during the 2010 lame-duck session. It’s true that Republicans launched a filibuster, and the cloture vote for DREAM failed by five votes — but that’s because five Democrats voted against DREAM! It’s hard to blame Republicans for failure when the president couldn’t even get all the members of his own party to support the DREAM amnesty.

  • The president also repeated the falsehood that Arizona’s S.B. 1070 allows police to stop people if they think they’re illegal. (In fact, it allows police to inquire as to legal status if they suspect a person they’ve already stopped for some other reason is illegal.) Either Obama’s superficial familiarity with the issue has resulted in his absorbing the false talking points of open-borders advocacy groups, or this pseudo-professor of law was knowingly lying about the Arizona measure. I’m prepared to believe either option, though I suspect the first option is correct, since the president doesn’t really know or care about the immigration issue and just lazily picks up the few things he needs to say about it.

  • Another Obama falsehood is that Romney endorsed S.B. 1070 as a national model. In the February primary debate outside Phoenix where this came up, Romney clearly referred to the state’s earlier law implementing E-Verify requirement. Even Politfact said the president’s claim was false.

  • The president also made clear that his illegal DREAM decree really is intended to be a permanent amnesty, not just a temporary reprieve from deportation: “And we should make sure that we give them a pathway to citizenship. And that’s what I’ve done administratively.”

  • Romney mentioned military service as just one possibility for DREAMers to get amnestied, rather than the only one: “military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident.” The military option is a phony thing, but this suggests openness to other amnesty pathways for DREAMers.

  • In response to the president’s complaints that he was stymied in getting immigration reformed “in a smart way and a comprehensive way,” Romney said “I’ll get it done. I’ll get it done. First year . . .” Some of the more excitable immigration hawks see this as a sellout in the making, that Romney will push something like the McCain-Kennedy amnesty once he’s safely in the White House. I doubt it, but what this does suggest is that we could see a miniature “comprehensive immigration reform", along these lines: A narrower version of the DREAM Act in exchange for universal E-Verify, plus green cards for top foreign STEM graduates in exchange for ending the visa lottery. That’s actually a deal that could make sense.

  • Finally, and this is not specifically in reference to the debate, the whole “legal good/illegal bad” approach to immigration, which Romney articulated, may be a useful way to politically finesse the issue, but doesn’t logically hold together. If legal immigration is so wonderful, why are there any limits on it? Libertarians are at least honest in calling for the unlimited admission of foreigners, but no politician can say that because voters would recoil if it were expressed that clearly. But what is the limiting principle? Why shouldn’t second-cousins be able to immigrate? Why shouldn’t employers be able to import workers in any number they please? I know my answer — I wrote a whole book on it. But what answer would the candidates give? It would be nice if someone thought to ask.