CPAC's Not So Open-Border Immigration Panel

By Jon Feere on March 16, 2015

Last month's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held two immigration panels. The first, titled "Immigration: Can conservatives reach a consensus?", was slanted in favor of high immigration and open borders. As I wrote in a previous blog, the consensus of two of the three panelists was that the United States should allow in more immigration and that sovereignty — i.e., the right of Americans to decide how much immigration should be welcomed — should be abandoned by conservatives because it amounts to nothing more than "Big Government."

The second panel was slanted more in support of America's sovereignty and immigration limits, and is worth examining for what it shows us about the varying views on the right. Titled, "If We Build It, They Won't Come", the panel consisted of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.); Ed Martin, president of Eagle Forum; David Keene, opinion editor of the Washington Times and former chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU), which runs CPAC; and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.


For whatever reason, unlike the earlier panel, a video of this panel has not been made available on the ACU's CPAC Youtube page. Instead, you can listen to an audio recording.

Starting the conversation was Rep. Paul Gosar who explained the importance of federal, state, and local cooperation on immigration enforcement. He noted that in one border sector in Arizona, increased enforcement reduced 120,000 illegal aliens crossing in one year to less than 6,000 just a few years later.

The congressman explained, "America deserves a secure country. They want a secure community, a secure job, they want the rule of law and they want opportunity." The congressman also pointed out that, "We're all a nation of immigrants, but it should be about legal immigration, coming in legally, not illegally."

Rep. Gosar also explained that border security is not just the physical border that surrounds the United States, but rather is a virtual border that includes air and seaports, which why it is "so important to have internal enforcement as well." The congressman also called for more state involvement and that they have to be "part of the enforcement mechanism."

Mr. Norquist started his comments saying, "On border security, originally I thought we were talking about the specific the McCaul proposal, which is a variation on the fence which has, as I understand it, a series of cables underground so that you don't have to have some guy – hundreds of thousands of people every hundred feet across the border—but you can step back half a mile and know exactly not only who's crossing but how many people and whether they have a car, then you go down and meet them." Norquist said he thought it was a reasonably good idea.

The "McCaul bill" is a border bill introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tx.) (since taken off the table) called the "Secure Our Borders First Act" that many supporters of increased enforcement oppose because they view it as nothing more than a set of promises of future enforcement that will take years to unfold.

Earlier in the year, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a strong supporter of immigration enforcement, explained his opposition to the bill, writing:

The Chairman McCaul proposal does not include the following reforms needed to achieve a sound immigration system: it does not end catch-and-release; it does not require mandatory detention and return; it does not include worksite enforcement; it does not close dangerous asylum and national security loopholes; it does not cut-off access to federal welfare; and it does not require completion of the border fence. Surprisingly, it delays and weakens the longstanding unfulfilled statutory requirement for a biometric entry-exit visa tracking system.

Norquist then argued that border security was only part of the solution and pushed for a guestworker program, citing the Bracero program, which continued in various iterations from 1942 to 1964. He said that there were large numbers of people coming across the border until President Dwight D. Eisenhower set up the Bracero program.

The program was actually initiated under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and extended by President Harry S. Truman; it did continue under Eisenhower's watch, but he didn't create it. It's unclear if this was a slip of the tongue or whether Norquist was falsely presenting the Bracero program as a specifically Republican initiative in order to make it more appealing to the conservative audience.

Norquist argued that a guestworker program would make border security better because it would mean that law enforcement would not have to look at people coming to work, but could focus on people attempting to come "outside of guestwork."

Norquist then said that the labor unions were to blame for ending the program and "got it killed under Kennedy and Johnson." He said that labor unions "have always hated the idea of a guestworker program, and immigration, period." Of course, labor unions are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of immigration today. The liberal New Republic magazine summed this up at the beginning of one article this way:

"No group in America, aside from Latino activists, is a more steadfast champion of generous immigration reform than organized labor. That stance, declares the AFL-CIO, is 'based on the simple idea that working people are strongest when we work together and the labor movement is strongest when we are open to all workers, regardless of where they come from.'"

Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has spoken explicitly about the political benefits of mass immigration to the left. Medina, an honorary chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America, has said that immigrants "will solidify and expand the progressive coalition for the future" and that will allow liberals to "create a governing coalition for the long term, not just for an election cycle."

Most research and polling data back Medina, showing that immigrants are much more liberal on key political issues, from taxing and spending to Obamacare and gun control.

One has to assume Norquist's framing of the issue was designed to create the false impression that a policy preference for lower levels of immigration is a left-wing position and thus not something conservatives should support. Of course, all polling on this topic shows that conservatives are very much in favor of lower levels of immigration (a few public-spirited progressives are, as well). Yet this line about mass immigration being a pro-conservative position is something the open-border Right has been pushing hard.

Norquist then attempted to redefine the concept of "border security first" as one that includes a concurrent guestworker program, saying, "I just think that when we talk about ‘border security first' which… I think is a fine idea, it ought to be: a guestworker program is part of making any sort of wall, whether it's virtual or real, effective."

In other words, he's not really for border security first. For those of us on the pro-enforcement side of the immigration debate, we want to see enforcement put into place, fully litigated, and actually used for a period of years before any discussion of increased immigration or amnesty takes place. That's the only way to make sure that the enforcement isn't just window dressing.

Next up was Ed Martin, president of Eagle Forum. He noted that Eagle Forum was started as a pro-family group and put focus on the fact that there are tens of millions of able-bodied, unemployed Americans. He explained that "The scourge of job loss impacts the family, the neighborhood, the state, and the country in a way that is as profound as anything we have seen." He then went on to note that despite plenty of available labor, immigration, both legal and illegal, "has flooded our market with workers" and although we shouldn't get into a false debate about judging those coming here to work, the interests of Americans should be put first.

Martin called for expanding the discussion of border security to include a discussion about visa overstayers and about the H-1B program, "where businesses are really looking for a better bargain."

Martin pointed out that President Ronald Reagan, according to Ed Meese, felt that one of the great betrayals of his presidency was trusting that enforcement would occur on immigration. Martin said, "We have a real deficit of trust on this issue, and we've got to address that."

When asked about how we know whether the government is serious about enforcement, Mr. Martin said "the coming election ought to be about this question, and the simple fact is that when you say things like ‘border security first plus amnesty' which I understand is Jeb Bush's position, that is not a plausible position that gives anyone confidence."

David Keene, opinion editor of the Washington Times, then framed the problem with the comprehensive amnesty of 1986, known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act. (The Center for Immigration Studies has a number of reports that address this law's failures, such as those available here, here, and here.)

Keene explained, "In 1984, during the debate with Walter Mondale, Ronald Reagan came out for amnesty for the illegal immigrants here at the time. It made a lot of sense because it was a three-part program" which Keene described as legalization, border security, and internal enforcement, namely prohibition against the employment of illegal aliens. He explained it was to be "a one-time thing".

Keene explained that the reason it was a betrayal is because the "business community didn't want internal enforcement, and the Congress didn't want border security." Keene summarized, "So what Ronald Reagan viewed as a red light became a green light. And we now have millions and millions more."

Keene also noted that many people are coming here in response to President Obama's willingness to take in illegal immigrant children and their parents, and that we shouldn't be surprised people are getting the message. He also cited a poll showing that many Mexicans were interested in coming to the U.S. and that a significant percentage would leave if they could, joking that it was "a little bit like Massachusetts." He continued, "And you can't blame them for that. They've got a bad government, they've got, had a bad economy…it's improving…but what happens is when you say ‘you can', they leave."

Keene explained that immigration policy requires, in a country that is a magnet for immigration, asking who do we need in terms of skills and talent, and secondly, how many people we can absorb. Keene's point was that assimilation is critical for creating Americans and that mass immigration makes assimilation less likely.

Keene did give his support for immigration, saying there is no reason to close our doors to immigration because "we never have" and there are "people that we need and want" noting that the U.S. is one of the few major countries that is continuing to grow and that it is "only because of immigration."

In reality, the U.S. population growth is not due entirely to immigration. Without any immigration, the U.S. population would increase by 31 million by 2050. If immigration continues as is, the United States will experience a 127 million (41 percent) population increase. However, the high immigration has only a small effect on slowing the aging of American society.

Keene summed up, saying, "The point is, that policies of this kind need to be rational, they need to take the national interest and the interest of the community into account, and then they need to be enforceable."

There was much more discussion when the question-and-answer portion started around 20 minutes in to the panel, with a question from the moderator, and then questions from the audience around 30 minutes in. Listen to the entire discussion here.

Topics: Politics