"Interesting Opportunities": Are Amnesty and Open Borders in Our Future?

By Mark Krikorian on November 9, 2006

National Review Online, November 9, 2006

Before election night was even over, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the Democratic takeover of the House presented "interesting opportunities," including a chance to pass "comprehensive immigration reform" - i.e., the president's plan for an illegal-alien amnesty and enormous increases in legal immigration, which failed only because of House Republican opposition..

At his press conference Wednesday, the president repeated this sentiment, citing immigration as "vital issue - where I believe we can find some common ground with the Democrats."

Will the president and the Democrats get their way with the new lineup next year?


That's not to say the amnesty crowd isn't hoping for it. Tamar Jacoby, the tireless amnesty supporter at the otherwise conservative Manhattan Institute, in a recent piece in Foreign Affairs eagerly anticipated a Republican defeat, "The political stars will realign, perhaps sooner than anyone expects, and when they do, Congress will return to the task it has been wrestling with: how to translate the emerging consensus into legislation to repair the nation's broken immigration system."

In Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria shares Jacoby's cluelessness about Flyover Land: "The great obstacle to immigration reform has been a noisy minority. - Come Tuesday, the party will be over. CNN's Lou Dobbs and his angry band of xenophobes will continue to rail, but a new Congress, with fewer Republicans and no impending primary elections, would make the climate much less vulnerable to the tyranny of the minority."

And fellow immigration enthusiast Fred Barnes earlier this week blamed the coming Republican defeat in part on the failure to pass an amnesty and increase legal immigration: "But imagine if Republicans had agreed on a compromise and enacted a "comprehensive" - Mr. Bush's word - immigration bill, dealing with both legal and illegal immigrants. They'd be justifiably basking in their accomplishment. The American public, except for nativist diehards, would be thrilled."

"Emerging consensus"? "Nativist diehards"? Jacoby and her fellow-travelers seem to actually believe the results from her hilariously skewed polling questions, and those of the mainstream media, all larded with pro-amnesty codewords like "comprehensive reform" and "earned legalization," and offering respondents the false choice of mass deportations or amnesty.

More responsible polling employing neutral language (avoiding accurate but potentially provocative terminology like "amnesty" and "illegal alien') finds something very different. In a recent national survey by Kellyanne Conway, when told the level of immigration, 68 percent of likely voters said it was too high and only 2 percent said it was too low. Also, when offered the full range of choices of what to do about the existing illegal population, voters rejected both the extremes of legalization ("amnesty" to you and me) and mass deportations; instead, they preferred the approach of this year's House bill, which sought attrition of the illegal population through consistent immigration law enforcement. Finally, three fourths of likely voters agreed that we have an illegal immigration problem because past enforcement efforts have been "grossly inadequate," as opposed to the open-borders crowd's contention that illegal immigration is caused by overly restrictive immigration rules.

Nor do the results of Tuesday's balloting bear out the enthusiasts' claims of a mandate for amnesty. "The test," Fred Barnes writes, "was in Arizona, where two of the noisiest border hawks, Representatives J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf, lost House seats." But while these two somewhat strident voices were defeated (Hayworth voted against the House immigration-enforcement bill because it wasn't tough enough), the very same voters approved four immigration-related ballot measures by huge margins, to deny bail to illegal aliens, bar illegals from winning punitive damages, bar illegals from receiving state subsidies for education and child care, and declare English the state's official language.

More broadly, this was obviously a very bad year for Republicans, leading to the defeat of both enforcement supporters - like John Hostettler (career grade of A- from the pro-control lobbying group Americans for Better Immigration) and Charles Taylor (A) - as well as amnesty promoters, like Mike DeWine (D) and Lincoln Chafee (F). Likewise, the winners included both prominent hawks - Tancredo (A) and Bilbray (A+) - and doves - Lugar (D-), for instance, and probably Heather Wilson (D).

What's more, if legalizing illegals is so widely supported by the electorate, how come no Democrats campaigned on it? Not all were as tough as Brad Ellsworth, the Indiana sheriff who defeated House Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Hostettler, or John Spratt of South Carolina, whose immigration web pages might as well have been written by Tom Tancredo. But even those nominally committed to "comprehensive" reform stressed enforcement as job one. And the national party's "Six for 06" rip-off of the Contract with America said not a word about immigration reform, "comprehensive" or otherwise.

The only exception to this "Whatever you do, don't mention the amnesty" approach appears to have been Jim Pederson, the Democrat who challenged Sen. Jon Kyl (a grade of B) by touting a Bush-McCain-Kennedy-style amnesty and foreign-worker program and even praised the 1986 amnesty, which pretty much everyone now agrees was a catastrophe.

Pederson lost.

Speaker Pelosi has a single mission for the next two years - to get her majority reelected in 2008. She may be a loony leftist (F- on immigration), but she and Rahm Emanuel (F) seem to be serious about trying to create a bigger tent in order to keep power, and adopting the Bush-McCain-Kennedy amnesty would torpedo those efforts. Sure, it's likely that they'll try to move piecemeal amnesties like the DREAM Act (HR 5131 in the current Congress), or increase H-1B visas (the indentured-servitude program for low-wage Indian computer programmers). They might also push the AgJobs bill, which is a sizable amnesty limited to illegal-alien farmworkers. None of these measures is a good idea, and Republicans might still be able to delay or kill them, but they aren't the "comprehensive" disaster the president and the Democrats really want.

Any mass-amnesty and worker-importation scheme would take a while to get started, and its effects would begin showing up in the newspapers and in people's workplaces right about the time the next election season gets under way. And despite the sophistries of open-borders lobbyists, Nancy Pelosi knows perfectly well that this would be bad news for those who supported it.

Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.