The Shape of a Future Immigration Deal?

By Mark Krikorian on November 26, 2012

Two incremental immigration measures might pass in the next year, and their outlines are clear.

One is a bill by House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith, which the House will likely take up Friday. This would give green cards to foreign students who get U.S. graduate degrees in technical fields, in exchange for eliminating the egregious Visa Lottery for random unskilled immigrants. What’s been added since the last time the House considered this measure is a change making it easier to move here for spouses whom green card holders married after immigrating.

The second possible piecemeal measure is some version of the DREAM Act, amnestying illegal aliens who came as children, in exchange for an E-Verify requirement for all employers plus some kind of limits on downstream chain migration by the relatives of DREAM amnesty beneficiaries.

But the longer-term question is what kind of broader “grand bargain” might be possible on immigration — specifically, how to address the larger illegal population, estimated at 11 or 12 million people. The open-borders Left, plus its fellow travelers on the right (Jeb Bush, Grover Norquist, et al.) want amnesty now, along with huge increases in legal immigration, in exchange for a promise to try really, really hard to enforce the law in the future.

Immigration hawks, on the other hand, have correctly rejected the very idea of a grand bargain, insisting on Enforcement First. They’ve promoted a policy of attrition through enforcement — reducing the illegal population steadily over time through consistent application of the immigration laws. This would mean continuing the steady increase in deportations that started in the Clinton administration (which has stalled under Obama), but also more self-deportation, as illegals who can’t find work and in general can’t live a normal life here pack up and head back home.

Expansionists counter that this is really “Enforcement Only” — that the “First” part of Enforcement First is disingenuous because there’s no plan for what comes “second.” And it’s true there hasn’t been a lot of thinking about this at the political level, but that’s mainly because when your tub is overflowing, the first thing you have to do is turn off the tap — and we haven’t even reached the tap, let alone moved to turn it off.

But it’s never too early to think about the outlines of a future deal. I’ve long thought that, once real enforcement measures are in place (and functioning, and funded, and survived the ACLU’s legal jihad against any and all enforcement tools), after a few years of shrinkage in the illegal population, considering amnesty for some of those remaining might well be prudent. But the trade-off would not be the conventional one imagined by “comprehensive immigration reform” (amnesty and even more immigration in exchange for insincere enforcement pledges) but rather amnesty in exchange for deep, permanent cuts in future legal immigration.

I say all this as setup for these comments from Charles Kamasaki, executive vice president of the National Council of La Raza, at a panel a few weeks back at the Migration Policy Institute, a high-immigration think tank in Washington. The panel’s title was “Rethinking National Identity in the Age of Migration,” which is the kind of creepy thing you’d expect from the post-national crowd. But Kamasaki concluded his comments with what at La Raza must be outside-the-box thinking (my emphasis):

Over the long term . . . if we really aren’t able to make the pie bigger . . . that is, if we are going to be unable to make substantial progress on reversing decades of income inequality and having more and more Americans facing a situation where they can’t be confident that their kids are going to be better off than they are, then, going back to my point about facts on the ground, I think we ought to at least consider, for the sake of a healthier society, better attitudes on race, and a more accepting immigration policy, whether we ought to take a look at, whether slowing the pace of immigration to this country writ large, hopefully following some sort of comprehensive immigration reform, might not be part of the solution. That may well be heretical, but I think Demetri’s paper makes a very powerful point that it doesn’t seem like necessarily the size of the foreign-born population has a lot of correlation with anti-immigrant policies, either here or in Europe, but it seems almost one-to-one correlation between the pace of immigration and anti-immigrant policies.

He’s obviously no restrictionist, and I’m sure he’d prefer effectively open borders. But he seems to get that the actually existing American people don’t want that and he’s willing to consider immigration limits if they’d help achieve other goals. And he’s right that a more moderate level of immigration would help lead to “a healthier society, better attitudes on race, and a more accepting immigration policy.”

Reducing future legal immigration in exchange for amnesty was even broached in one version of the Kennedy/Bush amnesty push of 2007, though as a last-ditch desperation measure, and a phony one at that (everyone who’d already submitted an application would get in, meaning years of continued arrivals, allowing the change to be reversed once the amnesty was safely out of the way). But phony or not, the pro-amnesty side has already conceded that future legal immigration is on the table, and Kamasaki’s careful comments, however qualified, underline that.

I don’t mean this as a gotcha — I commend Kamasaki for his willingness to get hammered by his own side for airing this possibility. But it does suggest there is common ground on immigration, though perhaps not one the cheap-labor lobbyists would like. In short: amnesty for long-term, deserving illegal aliens in exchange for an end to future mass immigration — after the implementation of enforcement tools to ensure we don’t have another 11 million illegals a few years down the road.