Don't Look Now, but the Amnesty-First Crowd Has Blinked

By Mark Krikorian on May 20, 2015

Prof. Robert George's group, American Principles in Action, has released an "immigration reform" plan calling for enforcement followed by amnesty and increased guestworker admissions. The plan (really more of a brief outline) shows the power of the demand for Enforcement First and the importance of rejecting compromise on core principles.

Perhaps the most important sentence in the outline is this (the emphasis is mine): "After we have secured the border and toughened up interior enforcement, we should then provide undocumented immigrants a path to legal status, short of citizenship."

This is a fundamental concession by at least part of the pro-amnesty Right. During the immigration debate in the last Congress, immigration hawks were vilified for rejecting the Schumer-Rubio bill's amnesty-first approach and insisting instead that enforcement be fully implemented before anything else happened.

Alfonso Aguilar, who runs Prof. George's "Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles" project and who released this plan, was an aggressive proponent of the Schumer-Rubio bill and was one of those vilifying conservatives who insisted on Enforcement First. Now, it seems, he's joined our ranks.

In other words, they blinked.

The current outline rejects the amnesty-first core of Schumer-Rubio (and the McCain-Kennedy bill before it), calling for enforcement up front: 700 miles of double-fencing on the border (plus more if needed elsewhere), universal use of E-Verify, and biometric exit-tracking of foreign visitors to identify those who overstay and become illegal aliens. Only "After steps 1, 2 and 3 are executed and not earlier than January 21, 2017″ would the amnesty and unlimited guestworker program kick in.

Despite this fundamental concession, this isn't a blueprint conservatives will want to adopt. Putting aside my concerns about amnesty without green cards (I explain my skepticism here and here), the outline contains sins of commission and omission, and leaves unanswered some important questions.

Commission: Like the Schumer-Rubio bill, the new outline accepts the "Jobs Americans Won't Do" fallacy, calling for increased admission of foreign workers. In fact, for less-skilled workers, it calls for unlimited admissions: "a market-oriented guest worker program that allows businesses that cannot find American workers to recruit and temporarily bring into the country as many unskilled agriculture and non-agriculture foreign workers as they may need." It also wants to "substantially increase the quota for H1-B visas" and let foreign students who earn STEM degrees to stay.

The percentage of American adults who are in the workforce has been declining steadily for years, starting long before the recent recession (see Figure 1 here). Other than a handful of genuine Einsteins (few H-1Bs even come close), government procurement of foreign workers for employers is pure cronyism. Far from growing the federal immigration program, we need to pare it back significantly. This is at least as important as the enforcement and amnesty portions, and will likely be the main focus of future debate over immigration.

Omission: The outline ignores a sine qua non of interior enforcement: systematic cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. Just this week, the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing called for the government to "Decouple federal immigration enforcement from routine local policing for civil and nonserious crime." The White House has been busy doing this already, having pulled the plug on Secure Communities, a program that checked the fingerprints of arrested suspects against immigration databases at the same time as they're checked with the FBI. Rebuilding this capability, and making it routine that arrested suspects – whatever their crime – who turn out to be illegal aliens are deported, must be a precondition of any consideration of amnesty.

Questions: The outline is so brief that it doesn't address some pretty basic issues – perhaps by design. Would all this be packaged into one bill, with "triggers" for the amnesty? In that case, political pressure to pull the triggers – to declare the enforcement goals reached – will be overwhelming, regardless of the reality on the ground.

The outline says the unlimited foreign-worker program and the amnesty would take place only after the enforcement measures are "executed" and "not earlier than January 21, 2017." The idea that we would build 700 additional miles of double fencing on the border – or a biometric exit-tracking system for all foreign visitors (including at the land crossings) – in just a year and a half is absurd. This strongly suggests that "executing" the enforcement measures will be defined in some Orwellian fashion to allow amnesty and unlimited foreign-worker admissions to begin on January 22, 2017.

Finally, the outline says illegal aliens who have not committed "serious felonies" (as opposed to trivial felonies, I suppose) would get amnesty – "after they pay a fine and back taxes." Really? The "back taxes" myth has been so thoroughly debunked that its inclusion here suggests that whoever actually wrote the outline is either lying or knows nothing whatsoever about the immigration debate. And new data showing USCIS doubling the number of fee waivers each year strongly supports the suspicion that no "fines" will ever be collected.

So this new immigration outline is fatally flawed, and isn't going anywhere anyway. But its rhetorical embrace of the Enforcement First position is a watershed development for the Gang of Eight/McCain-Kennedy crowd, and should be a lesson to immigration hawks. Compromise is essential to governing, but there are fundamental issues where no compromise is possible. Stick you your guns, and wait for the other side to blink. When the corporate-libertarian Right demands a hamburger today for payment on Tuesday, turn them away. When they come back and offer you an IOU, say no. When they return again with an offer to pay part of the price up front and give you the rest later, shake your head. Full payment up front, or no deal. In God We Trust, all others pay cash.