The great immigration writer John Higham famously wrote long ago that the country-of-origin immigration quota system, adopted during the Harding administration, was the "triumph of bigotry over greed". Corporate greed for low-paid workers was trumped, in his eyes by the forces of nativism.
Things are a little more complex today, but if "comprehensive immigration reform" is enacted in the near future it will be because of the combined forces of:
- Realistic financial greed on the part of the corporations (and their GOP allies); and
- Realistic, if long-range, electoral greed on the part of the Democrats; and
- Totally unrealistic, short-term electoral greed on the part of many Republicans.
It is unattractive of our big employers to want to increase profits by increasing the number of consumers in America and the number of low-paid workers, and thus hugely increasing pressures on our environment and our infrastructure, all certain by-products of an amnesty, but it is a short-term economic greed based on reality.
Similarly, it is realistic of many Democrats to want to grant citizenship to the multitudes of "undocumented Democrats" in the country, even though it might take nearly a generation to convert those illegal aliens into registered voters. In the meantime it will keep the illegals' voting relatives within the Democratic Party's big if scruffy tent, a far bigger one than the neater, more elegant tent erected by the other party.
On the other hand the immigration policy motivations of many Republicans seem to be based on the odd and totally unrealistic theory that if they go for a big amnesty it will bring them, immediately, significant numbers of Hispanic votes. See the blog of my colleague James Edwards on this point.
If everyone in this equation acted rationally — corporations, Democrats, and Republicans — there would be no big amnesty because it would die in the House of Representatives.
But can we expect the House Republicans to vote their own enlightened self-interest on this matter? That's the key question.