Security First or Legalization First?

By Mark Krikorian on May 24, 2013

A Fox News poll this week illuminates the core issue in the current immigration debate. On the one hand, 66 percent of registered voters chose the following option over sending all illegals back or enrolling them in a temporary worker program:

Allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, but only if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check.

Putting aside the fact that the Schumer-Rubio bill requires neither payment of back taxes nor learning English, this result is borne out by many other polls; given how long our political class has allowed this problem to fester, there does indeed seem to be a broad public willingness — or resignation, maybe — to grant amnesty to long-established, non-dope-dealer illegal aliens. The Norquist-Pelosi side of the debate makes much of such findings.

But what the Chuck Schumer Republicans don't point out is results like this one from the same poll: When asked "Do you favor or oppose requiring completion of new border security measures first — before making other changes to immigration policies?", 73 percent want security first, with 20 percent opposed. Not only is this share larger than the majority willing to accept amnesty, it's been growing over the course of the debate in Congress. And this support for security first is overwhelming among all demographic categories: Democrat or Republican, men and women, young and old, white and non-white, rich or poor, college or no college.

The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, and their Republican fellow-travelers, made clear over the past couple of weeks that they stand with the 20 percent of the public that wants amnesty first and against the 73 percent who want security first. They made this point repeatedly, voting down amendment after amendment that would have required security first, like one that would have required DHS certification of effective control of the border for six months before processing amnesty applications (Grassley 4), or the use of biometric entry-exit tracking of foreign visitors at all ports of entry before amnesty (Sessions 4), or a vote by the House that the goals set out in the border and fencing plans have been achieved before granting amnesty (Lee 4).

"There are a lot of issues that will shape the future of immigration reform," as Byron York writes, "but security first vs. legalization first is the most fundamental one." How can anyone calling himself a conservative join with Reid and Obama, Schumer and Pelosi in pushing legalization first?