The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) put on a panel Thursday titled "Immigration: Can conservatives reach a consensus?" 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 panelists included Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the American Principles Project's Latino Partnership and former Chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship under President George W. Bush. He advocates for increased immigration and for letting illegal aliens stay indefinitely in the United States. (It's not amnesty, he argues, if they aren't given citizenship.) Jorge Ramos, a Univision anchor and fierce amnesty advocate, once wrote the following: "Republicans, you have to listen to [the following people] for the immigration debate: Jeb Bush, Carlos Gutierrez, and Alfonso Aguilar."
The other high-immigration panelist was Mario Lopez of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, who basically agrees with Aguilar that the United States should massively increase immigration even at a time of high unemployment. To give you an idea of the diversity of immigration perspectives on the CPAC panel, he started his speech with "Alfonso, you stole half my talking points."
The third panelist was Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), a supporter of immigration enforcement who opposed the Senate amnesty bill (S.744) that would have doubled legal immigration and amnestied millions of illegal aliens.
The moderator, Charlie Gerow of Quantum Communications, started the discussion noting that the issue of immigration "provides more diversity, and perhaps divergence among conservatives than any other" and that "there is a broad spectrum of thought about how to address the issues of immigration". Unfortunately, this panel discussion did not represent that broad spectrum. Gerow noted that the past chairman of CPAC, Al Cardenas, is an immigrant, the current chairman (Matt Schlapp) is married into a family of immigrants, and that he himself (Gerow) is an immigrant – "each of us, by the way, Latinos", he added.
Rep. Jeff Duncan started the conversation noting his opposition to "executive amnesty" and explained his effort to stop Obama's effort through the DHS funding bill. He cited the importance of staking out the role of the legislative branch and not letting Obama change immigration unilaterally. He also noted "we are a nation of immigrants, I agree with the president on that, but the immigrants that he should be talking about came here the legal way. There's a legal and an illegal way to do things."
While an important distinction, all too many conservatives are too focused on the legal/illegal issue and should expand the discussion on immigration to one of numbers and admission standards. How much immigration should the United States welcome each year? What type of immigration — high-skilled or low-skilled? The congressman's co-panelists later demanded increases in immigration and unfortunately the congressman was not prepared to give a counter argument on that point.
The congressman continued: "We are a sovereign nation. That means we make our own laws, we determine our own fate. And we don't like other countries telling us we should do this, or should do that. We don't want Russia to do that, or Cuba to do that...and we don't want any others to tell us...we need to change our law and take immigrants. That's wrong. We're a sovereign nation, we determine our own fate."
Oddly missing from the congressman's list of countries demanding the United States change its immigration policy was Mexico. The government of Mexico just last week condemned the U.S. federal court's ruling halting Obama's lawless amnesty.
Rep. Duncan noted that the United States is an "exceptional country" that people want to immigrate to but that "we're also a nation of laws, and those laws need to be respected and they need to be enforced. And I think when those laws aren't enforced, the failure to enforce the laws really poisons the well for the United States Congress to have any debate about the legal immigration side of it, and what we do with the illegals that are here in this country, and what we do going forward with guestworker programs, expanded student visas."
Of course, Americans are not calling for increases in legal immigration. A new Gallup poll found that only 7 percent of Americans want more immigration.
The congressman then noted that nearly half of the illegal aliens in the country came legally with a visa "and violated our trust" by overstaying. He called for holding those people accountable noting, "That's low-hanging fruit for enforcement; that's a law that needs to be enforced."
In explaining what he sees as a conservative solution to the immigration problems, he called for more fencing, noting that it helps law enforcement to go after smugglers. He also noted that he cannot get a border bill out of Congress because Obama has poisoned the well by not enforcing laws already on the books. He also noted the importance of having new laws to stop the practice of "catch and release" of illegal aliens happening under ICE's watch.
Next up was Aguilar, who started off by calling Obama's lawless immigration actions "extremely irresponsible". He said that Obama should have waited for the new Congress and tried to work with the new legislators. He said that he thinks "the president's move was a political ploy designed to anger Republicans, perhaps to insure, ironically, that Republicans would not do anything, in order to continue using the immigration politically with the Latino community."
Aguilar stated that the issue of Obama's actions would be resolved by the courts, and that it's time for Republicans to lead on the issue now that the "American people got fed up with a Democratic senate". He said it's "not enough to complain" and that it's time to "introduce legislation to begin addressing different aspects of the immigration problem."
Having made a handful of obligatory statements about the problems of Obama's unilateral actions, Aguilar then got to his main point: That conservatives who expect illegal aliens to return home are wrong. He explained, "I think that conservatives are being bullied into a false choice: We either support Obama's amnesty or we support Kris Kobach's self-deportation. I think that's a false choice, I think there's a third way, a conservative way that respects the rule of law, that focuses on border security, but at the same time recognizes the need our economy has for foreign workers and deals with the issue of the undocumented population without doing amnesty."
Those following the immigration debate closely know that Kris Kobach is the Kansas Secretary of State who helped popularize the idea of avoiding both mass legalization and mass deportation by encouraging illegal aliens to return home through consistent enforcement of immigration laws. More information about the attrition policy can be found here.
In contrast, Aguilar supports significant increases in foreign labor because some businesses simply demand it. He confuses economic "need" with the "demand" for cheap, foreign labor from companies like Facebook. He also supports allowing illegal aliens to remain in the country indefinitely without citizenship, but nevertheless some sort of legal status that gives them work authorization and access to taxpayer benefits.
Aguilar explained that from his experience advising Republican members in the House and Senate, the "vast majority" support his position. He said conservatives need to "encourage them to have the political courage" to lead on this issue. The word "courage" was used by Aguilar and his fellow panelists often at last year's CPAC immigration panel as well, suggesting that he and his allies know that his position is unpopular with the public. A politician doesn't really need courage to advance a policy that is actually popular.
Aguilar then briefly mentioned his support for border fencing, drones, sensors, and an exit-tracking system for foreign visitors. He then continued on to his main point: "Having said that...the problem of immigration is not a problem of the undocumented community. It's a problem of flows. And we conservatives believe in the free market. If American employers cannot find American workers — and that's a big 'if' — if they cannot find American workers, why should big government tell an American employer, and American citizen, that they cannot bring foreign workers that they need? And that's a problem that we have!"
Here, Aguilar attempts to make the idea of endless, numerically unlimited immigration sound appealing to conservatives. He is trying to make the case that sovereignty — the right of Americans to decide who shall enter and under what conditions — is simply a "big government" mindset that should be abandoned. Instead, he would prefer that CEOs like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg decide who is admitted into the United States (Facebook has been actively pushing for increases in immigration).
The open-border, post-sovereignty, globalist crowd within the Republican Party has been attempting to shift the concept of a free market in labor from one that exists within U.S. borders to one that exists globally. If a company cannot find an American to work at a certain low wage, they argue that the company should be able to bring in anyone in the world who is willing to work for that wage. Impacts on our society, culture, taxes, workforce, environment, etc. from this increased immigration are not on these advocates' radar.
They also don't seem to understand that taking control over immigration out of the hands of all Americans and putting it into the hands of handful of companies is not appealing to most Americans. Aguilar calls immigration controls "big government", but in reality immigration laws are simply the American people exercising their sovereign rights, through their elected representatives, to decide what their immigration policy should be. Aguilar doesn't want average Americans to continue to have that control over our nation's future.
In his push for guestworkers, Aguilar claimed that "if the economy is not doing well, we'll have less foreign workers coming in." This type of regulation isn't something advocates of increased immigration are calling for, however. The economy isn't doing all that well right now and there are tens of millions of Americans at all skill levels who are unemployed. The immigration advocates have not stopped their demands for more immigration.
Aguilar then argued for "circular migration", a phenomenon he believes would occur under a guestworker program. Aguilar didn't mention that plenty of guestworkers never go home and either stay as illegal aliens or have their guestworker status renewed indefinitely. He also argued that the U.S. is responsible for breaking up families because illegal aliens aren't able to go home to visit their families without risking being stopped at the border upon reentry.
He argued that a guestworker program would "take away the pressure" on the border. This is basically saying that if we admit all the foreigners who want to come, they won't have to enter illegally. But that type of argument by definition eliminates any option for Americans to actually say "no" to the entry. It's the equivalent of saying, "They're going to enter anyway, so let's just let them." Or as Aguilar put it: "We need a mechanism for that flow."
Aguilar then argued that immigration helps American workers, saying, "There are some going around saying that immigration hurts working Americans. That is a total fallacy." He defended this assertion by advancing the Jeb Bush-style reasoning that foreigners are superior to Americans and that working class Americans are going to fail if we don't bring in more foreigners: "If we cannot fill jobs that Americans don't want, or where there are no Americans of working age to perform them, that's going to hurt their economy because we won't be able to grow the economy and create good-paying jobs for American workers. If we don't have those workers, we won't have good-paying jobs for working-class Americans."
Aguilar then called for a non-citizenship amnesty for illegal aliens. In other words, bring in cheap labor, exploit them for their willingness to work for less, and never let them vote or participate in the political process. This type of setup is simply not sustainable politically because the Democrats (and probably eventually Aguilar himself) would, in time, demand full rights and citizenship for these amnestied people and the GOP would quickly fold. Plus, these people would have U.S. citizen children who would eventually be able to make their parents citizens anyhow. Non-citizenship legalization is simply a stepping stone to full-scale amnesty.
Finally, Mario Lopez took the podium and argued that Obama has never been a true advocate of immigration reform and that his latest actions are a political move to "take away from [the GOP's] political victory", a move that Lopez claims is "working because too many Republicans have taken the bait and have started ramping up the rhetoric." It's unclear exactly what Lopez meant here, but it seems he meant that the GOP's anti-amnesty statements that followed Obama's actions are not something he endorses.
Lopez then put up a visual representation of the immigration system created by a pro-amnesty libertarian organization. His point was this: "It's not just a question of, 'Well you know, you should just come in legally.' The reality is, you can't. It's almost impossible to immigrate legally to the United States."
The reality is that about a million people become legal permanent residents in the United States every year.
Referencing the flowchart representation of the U.S. immigration system, Lopez said, "This is big government. And this is what conservatives at our core, should be against." While there is no doubt that our bureaucratic immigration system can be made more efficient, that's not really what Lopez was getting at. He doesn't want the system just made more user-friendly, he wants it to be overhauled in a manner that allows for significant increases in immigration.
Lopez then got to his anti-sovereignty message: "You cannot have the greatest country in the history of mankind and then somehow be shocked, or surprised, or even offended that there are people who will go to great lengths to" come here. He continued, "It won't work." The "it" in that last statement seems to be a reference to the act of denying entry to people who want to come here. It sounded like an assertion that sovereignty and immigration controls as a concept are not legitimate.
Lopez then argued that it's not true that immigrants are natural liberals who use welfare. It seems he's not studied any of the polling results or data on welfare use rates; here's a place to start.
If CPAC posts the video of the event, this posting will be updated.
UPDATE: A video of the panel discussion, including the Question & Answer section, is available online
[An analysis of CPAC 2015's other immigration panel is here.]