Jeb Bush's Immigration Plan, Brought to You by Chuck Schumer

By Mark Krikorian on August 5, 2015

National Review Online, July 5, 2015

In preparation for this week's debate in Cleveland, Jeb Bush this week posted his immigration plan: "Securing the Border and Enforcing Our Immigration Laws." It's basically a six-page summary of the Schumer–Rubio bill passed by the Senate in 2013, though without the other 1,194 pages of details.

It outlines six enforcement steps that he says must accompany —accompany, not precede — amnesty. He makes this explicit in the concluding paragraph, which begins (my emphasis):

These six proposals, when combined with a rigorous path to earned legal status, would realistically and honestly address the status of the 11 million people here illegally today and protect against future illegal immigration.

The beginning makes this clear, too, where he says illegal aliens will "obtain a provisional work permit" and then, "over an extended period of time earn legal status." This con is so old that it's hard to believe Team Jeb still thinks it will sell; as everyone figured out years ago, the "provisional work permit" is the amnesty. The only thing the former illegal aliens would "earn" is the right to upgrade from green card lite to green card premium.

And even the requirements for getting and keeping the amnesty are just Schumer's (and Rubio's) warmed-over talking points. At least whoever wrote this has learned not to repeat the "back taxes" lie that illegal immigrants applying for legal status would be required to pay back taxes on money earned during the years they lived illegally in the United States, since Bush's outline says only "pay taxes."

But Bush's outline does say that the "rigorous path" illegals will have to follow would require them to "learn English," "work," and "not receive federal government assistance." What about illegal immigrants who are too old to learn English or just don't have a knack for languages? Will they be arrested and deported? What's more, as with any large population, about one-third of illegal aliens don't work (too old, too young, moms at home, disabled, etc.) — are the 3–4 million illegals who aren't in the labor market ineligible for the amnesty? What about people in the labor market who are laid off and can't find other work? And why does Bush imagine there's no overlap between people who work and people who "receive federal government assistance"? Even the most cursory examination of the facts would show that virtually all illegal-alien households collecting welfare (ostensibly on behalf of U.S.-born children) contain at least one worker; in fact, our welfare system is designed specifically to help the working poor.

If Bush means what he says here, virtually no one would qualify for the amnesty. That is to say, none of this means anything — it's just boob bait.

But if the amnesty part of the proposal is malarkey, what of the six enforcement parts? Not much better, I'm afraid.

The core of Point 1 is the creation of more "forward operating bases" (FOBs) for the Border Patrol, so agents can be on the spot for multiple days, instead of driving in for each shift from offices miles north of the border. This is a good idea; I wrote in 2011 about the Arizona Cattlemen's Association demand for more FOBs. But this is a peculiar thing to place at the top of a border-security outline.

Point 2 is increased use of surveillance technology. Sounds good, but is this really something new? The Border Patrol has been using ground sensors since the Army gave them Vietnam-era surplus developed to keep an eye on Communist soldiers filtering south through the Ho Chi Minh Trail. And Bush's mention of drones brings to mind Krikorian's First Law of Immigration Politics: "Any politician who talks about drones on the border is full of it." John McCain is for drones. Lindsey Graham wants to triple the number of drones patrolling the border. Chuck Schumer is for more border drones. President Obama requested a "drone surge" for the border a year ago. (Unfortunately, drones are not very useful.)

Point 3 calls for more border-enforcement infrastructure: fences, new roads, and "new boat ramps." Again, I'm happy to give the Border Patrol whatever it needs to do the job, but are boat ramps really a detail that warrants mention in a brief document like this?

The other three points relate to interior enforcement, and there's little to disagree with in them: universal E-Verify, visa-tracking to prevent overstays, and a call to "crack down on sanctuary cities."

What's interesting is that the first five points (except for the boat ramps) all come under discussion in Bush's recent book on immigration, Immigration Wars, co-authored with Clint Bolick. But the final point, on sanctuary cities, does not. Sanctuary cities aren't mentioned once in the book. It's not as if this is a new issue; the 1996 immigration law sought to crack down on them. What is new is Donald Trump's rise in the polls, partly propelled by outrage over Kate Steinle's murder by an illegal alien shielded by San Francisco's sanctuary policies. So now that the proles are in a lather about sanctuary cities, Bush seems to have tacked on a bit about them at the end.

The belated inclusion of sanctuary cities reinforces the fear that all the enforcement promises are really just designed to get an amnesty bill past the public. Once illegal immigrants are safely amnestied (and massive increases in immigration are put in place, something he alludes to only at the end), then the enforcement measures can safely be watered down, whittled away, and rendered nugatory, setting the stage for George P. Bush's amnesty push 15 years from now.

Jeb still doesn't get that the main obstacle to immigration legislation is that the public doesn't trust politicians' promises to fix the situation. Only by fully implementing enforcement measures first, without any quid pro quo, can the political class earn the right to even ask for amnesty.