Con Game: The GOP is being taken for a ride

By Mark Krikorian on August 20, 2001

National Review, August 20, 2001

The GOP is being tricked into supporting another amnesty for illegal aliens, and post-American libertarians like Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal are accomplices in the con game.

Gigot's August 17 column says that "A Bush amnesty is precisely the kind of large political event" that could shake Hispanic voters loose from the Democratic party. Given that blacks were the only major group to vote more heavily Democratic than Hispanics last year, it is hard to believe that serious people could believe such a thing, but there appear to be some who do, at least in the White House. (For an analysis of GOP prospects among Hispanic voters, see "Impossible Dream or Distant Reality?: Republican Efforts to Attract Latino Voters.")

Now, there are plenty of reasons unrelated to politics to oppose the president's amnesty/guestworker plan: It rewards lawbreakers and sends the message overseas that we are not serious about enforcing our laws; it is guaranteed to encourage new, parallel streams of illegal immigration; it will create additional demands for government services, since illegals are not eligible for welfare, whereas fully one-third of legal Mexican immigrant households use at least one major welfare program; it will create millions of new candidates for dual citizenship, eating away the very basis of our polity; and last but not least, there is simply no way the INS could administer such a large program without permitting massive fraud.

These drawbacks to amnesty should alarm all Americans. But what about Gigot's assertion that it would be a good deal politically for the GOP?

If that's true, why are the Democrats promoting amnesty too? Gigot tries to make the case that, in this one instance, amnesty is good even though the Left embraces it. But elections are a zero-sum game — in our two-party system, if the Democrats win, the Republicans lose. And both parties believe that amnesty would serve their political interests. Only one can be right.

Here is what Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said of Bush's amnesty proposal: "On the left, it was electrifying." He should know; the forum is the leading lobby for high immigration, cofounded by the National Lawyers Guild, a former Soviet front group which still sits on forum's board. What does Gigot know that Sharry doesn't?

And recall that immediately after the White House floated the amnesty trial balloon in July, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle one-upped the president by demanding amnesty for all illegals, not just Mexicans, thus presenting the Democrats as the defenders of all those immigrants who aren't from Mexico (nearly three-quarters of the total). When the president was thus forced to concede that "We'll consider all folks here," the Democrats upped the ante again with a new list of demands: Amnesty for any illegal from any nation who has worked at least 90 days in the United States during the past year and a half; an end to any limits on the legal immigration of immigrants' family members; and the right for guestworkers to bring their families with them. There is nothing the president can propose that the Democrats can't top. Or, as Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, said, the Democratic demands "take the White House's immigration plans one step further in the right direction."

In one sense, this jockeying over amnesty simply confirms the stupid party/evil party stereotype. For years, Republicans have been confusing two aspects of this broad issue — immigration policy vs. immigrant policy. Immigration policy is whom we admit, how many, and how we enforce the law. Immigrant policy concerns how we treat those we've admitted to live among us. In the mid-1990s, Republicans responded to public concerns over the harmful impacts of bad immigration policy by enacting changes in immigrant policy instead. So, rather than embrace the modest cuts in legal immigration suggested by Barbara Jordan's bipartisan Commission on Immigration Reform, the Congress, led by then-Sen. Spencer Abraham, targeted legal immigrants already here for sweeping welfare bans and vindictive deportation rules.

But there's more than just stupidity at work here. The greed of short-sighted elements in the business community, abetted by libertarian idealogues who reject the legitimacy of national borders (recall the Journal's frequent call for a constitutional amendment, "There shall be open borders"), has driven much of the amnesty discussion. A lobbying alliance called the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, including construction, hotel, restaurant, landscaping, and other trade associations, has been instrumental in pushing Republicans to support the amnesty/guestworker plan in order to secure cheaper, more servile workers. Even Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, that exemplar of Americana, is a member, apparently because it's tired of having to entice American grandmothers to wait its tables.

So it's no surprise that, as Gigot notes, "Business, labor, Catholic bishops and even the media like the idea." We are seeing a replay of the odd-bedfellows coalition that thwarted immigration reform in 1996: Leftists and their ethnic pressure-group allies joining with rope-selling businessmen and libertarians. Business will get short-term benefit of a pliable workforce, while the Left will benefit in the long term through the importation of a vast new poverty class on whose behalf it can excoriate American society.

But the Republican party, not to mention the American people, are bound to lose.