The House’s Foolhardy Principles

By Mark Krikorian on January 31, 2014

National Review Online, January 30, 2014

The Republican "Standards for Immigration Reform," released today by the party at its congressional retreat, are pretty much what we'd been led to expect. They call for more enforcement, increasing legal immigration but orienting it away from family ties, and amnesty.

They're really not that different from the Senate Gang of Eight's original "Bipartisan Framework for Immigration Reform." And look how that turned out.

This document was prepared by Becky Tallent, Gang of Eight member John McCain's former chief of staff and manager of his earlier amnesty push with Ted Kennedy. John Boehner recently hired her as an immigration liaison, and her career-long commitment to pushing amnesty and increased immigration must inform the interpretation of any ambiguous language. If it looks like a weasel word, it probably is.

With or without that context, Boehner's standards present cause for concern:

The serious problems in our immigration system must be solved, and we are committed to working in a bipartisan manner to solve them. That would be pabulum except that the Gang of Eight also made a big deal of how bipartisan they were. Bipartisanship isn't any good if it means Democratic amnesty supporters teaming up with Republican amnesty supporters to screw the public.

We will not go to a conference with the Senate's immigration bill. This doesn't mean much. The pro-amnesty folks have conceded that the House will pass a number of separate bills, and they're okay with that so long as everything from the Senate bill is included and all the bills are "consolidated," in the words of American Conservative Union head Al Cardenas. Then the Senate can take them up one by one, or put them together and pass that — no conference needed.

We must ensure now that when immigration reform is enacted, there will be a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future. Why "in the future"? The long, sorry history of gutting immigration enforcement — not to mention this particular administration's brazen contempt for law — means we need zero tolerance now, not "when immigration reform is enacted." All new border-crossers should be criminally prosecuted now, and Congress should pass a measure criminalizing new visa overstayers, and then the feds should prosecute the violators. Packing this into an amnesty grand bargain ensures that, as in the past, it won't happen.

We must enact reform that ensures that a President cannot unilaterally stop immigration enforcement. How's that going to happen? The House of Representatives waited an entire year before expressing a mild squeak of disapproval at Obama's unilateral DREAM Act amnesty. If the legislature isn't going to use its considerable power now to ensure faithful execution of the laws, what are a few more paper provisions going to do?

It is past time for this country to fully implement a workable electronic employment verification system. True, but we have one already, called E-Verify. Why not mention it by name? Is it because, like Chuck Schumer, they want to scrap it and start over, all after the illegals get legal status?

Visa and green card allocations need to reflect the needs of employers. Actually they need to reflect the needs of the American people, including the 20 million–plus looking for full-time work.

Of particular concern are the needs of the agricultural industry, among others. "Temporary"-workers programs for any industry are a bad idea for Americans, but you could drive a truck through "among others." Every industry wants de facto unlimited access to foreign workers, to hold down wages.

It is imperative that these temporary workers are able to meet the economic needs of the country and do not displace or disadvantage American workers. "Temporary"-worker programs by definition disadvantage American workers. The sober, free-market populism that the GOP needs to espouse to refurbish its brand isn't going to get far if Republicans screw the very blue-collar workers whose votes they're trying to get.

One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. Well, the Constitution does ban bills of attainder, but I don't think you could describe it as "one of the great founding principles." In any case, we're not talking about "corruption of blood" — children suffer for their parents' mistakes all the time. If you can't pay your mortgage, your kids don't get to keep the house. Being sent back to your country of citizenship isn't a punishment.

Individuals Living Outside the Rule of Law . . . people who are living and working here illegally. So even Republicans can't bring themselves to say "illegal aliens" or even "illegal immigrants"?

There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation's immigration laws — that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law. What's unfair to legal immigrants and harmful to the rule of law is letting the illegal aliens stay legally, not whether they have a "special path" to citizenship or not. And "no special path" means that illegals would receive a non-citizenship amnesty, resulting in a large, permanent helot class. And leaving aside the repugnant principle, Democrats will demagogue that until Republicans cave and give them all citizenship anyway.

Amnestied illegals must pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). These conditions sound good but have mainly been used to lull skeptics. The smallish (and illegal) DREAM Act amnesty has legalized some half-million people, and the crush was so overwhelming for the bureaucracy that it had to resort to "lean and lite" background checks. Illegals are, almost by definition, poor and won't be able to pay large fines — they'd all be waived. "Back taxes" is totally fake; there's no way to reconstruct a history of tax obligations. It's just boob bait to make a measure sound tougher than it is. Proficiency in English and civics is the same: Making illegals take a class might help a little, but there's no way we're going to revoke the amnesty given to someone because he fails a test in English and civics. And avoiding public benefits is a farce. A very large share of households headed by illegal aliens can make ends meet only because of welfare they already collect nominally on behalf of their U.S.-born children.

Finally, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced. The use of "triggers" suggests that amnesty would be written into law but delayed until the benchmarks are met. "Enforcement first," which is preferable, means not even a prospective amnesty is voted on until satisfactory enforcement systems are up and running. Furthermore, what are the triggers, inputs (like hiring of a certain number of Border Patrol agents) or results (like three consecutive years of shrinkage in the illegal population)? And what does "none of this" refer to? Paul Ryan has suggested that all illegals receive probationary work visas, and thereby be amnestied, before we move forward on enforcement.

The ultimate question: Why is this document being released at all?

Republicans in Congress should reject any legislative activity on immigration while the Democrats hold the Senate and the White House. There is no possibility that a bill even minimally acceptable to conservatives could win approval from Reid and Obama. As Bill Kristol, no restrictionist he, wrote on Thursday: "No immigration votes in 2014. Kill the bills."

That doesn't mean thinking through this issue shouldn't take place outside Congress. This, after all, is what think tanks and journals of opinion are for. My piece in the most recent issue of NR, for instance, lays out a possible road map; others should spell out their own ideas as well, both in principle and in detail.

NRO's editors had it right earlier this week: "Don't just do something, stand there." Nothing in these standards changes that.