The GOP's Pledge to America and Immigration: The Missing Promise

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on September 23, 2010

The Republican Party has just released its Pledge to America. Understandably, the focus of most of its attention is a plan for improving America's economic circumstances, cutting government spending, curtailing the size, scope, and reach of the federal government, reforming the recently passed health care legislation, changing the way in which Congress conducts its business, strengthening American resolve in national security policy, and as part of that effort, dealing seriously with border control and the enforcement of our immigration laws.

This is quite a large and ambitious list, but does it have the virtue of being consistent with both traditional Republican principles and public sentiment.

It is noteworthy and encouraging that the Pledge does take up the issue of immigration. It does this with the confines of the Pledge's section entitled "A Plan to Keep Our Nation Secure at Home & Abroad."

Responding to Americans' concerns about our porous borders, the Pledge lays out two promises:

Establish Operational Control of the Border: We must take action to secure our borders, and that action starts with enforcing our laws. We will ensure that the Border Patrol has the tools and authorities to establish operational control at the border and prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from interfering with Border Patrol enforcement activities on federal lands.

Work with State and Local Officials to Enforce Our Immigration Laws: The problem of illegal immigration and Mexican drug cartels engaged in an increasingly violent conflict means we need all hands on deck to address this challenge. We will reaffirm the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of all federal immigrations laws.

It is clear that the common denominator of both provisions is enforcement. This is an understandable emphasis given the public's concern with illegal immigration and the method by which the Pledge was actually developed. The GOP relied heavily on an interactive forum called "America Speaking Out" which received comments from over 100,000 registered users. Clearly "Control our Borders" and "Enforce our Immigration Laws" captured in a phrase what most of those who responded to the online forum wished to see done, as well as what many other Americans want and what they feel the government has been unable and unwilling to do.

As true as this is however, the Pledge gives a mistaken impression that is in need of careful further thought and correction. Ensuring that the "Border Patrol has the tools and authorities to establish operational control at the border" or reaffirming "the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of all federal immigrations laws" are important steps.

Ultimately, however, the real immigration reform this country needs is not to be found primarily in the activities of border agents or state and local police authorities, as important as those parts of immigration reform are. The more lasting solution will be to find common ground on immigration policy, fund it adequately, and put into place administrative procedures that lock in these understandings in ways that make them difficult to escape or avoid.

The GOP pledge is a start towards a new bi-partisan American Immigration Blueprint, one that does not depend on corralling one or two members of the opposition party, but really reflects a substantial consensus how we should proceed, not only on enforcement but also on helping legal immigrants become part of the American national community and feel welcomed in it. I am at work on that project.

In the meantime, the Pledge gives the mistaken impression that the GOP might believe in "enforcement only" rather than "enforcement first." Sooner rather than later, even the enforcement-first supporters, of which I am one, must have a plan to ensure the continuing viability of the American commitment to new legal immigrants.

That, to date, is the Pledge's, and America's, missing promise.