President Obama's Immigration "Bipartisan" Sophistry: Part 1

By Stanley Renshon on August 13, 2013

Sophistry (soph·ist·ry)

1: subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation.

Supporters of the Senate's immigration bill, including the president, have a simple response to the idea that immigration reform would benefit from a more careful and thoughtful consideration than it was given in the Senate: Been there, done that.

The president says that he doesn't want the Senate's bill to get "bogged down in endless debate" and demands action because "We've been debating this a very long time."

Of course, ever verbally facile and rhetorically clever, the president also says that, yes, "Now, of course, there will be rigorous debate about many of the details, and every stakeholder should engage in real give and take in the process. But it's important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place."

So no, there shouldn't be "endless debate" because "we've been debating this for a very long time," but yes, there will be "rigorous debate about many of the details". But remember, "that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place."

Got that?

Actually, a framework for bipartisan action is not already in place and the reason why is that the Senate discussions that gave rise to the bill have more in common with groupthink than to rigorous debate.

Moreover, arguments over the "details" have materialized with such force in part because a number of actual factual details that have emerged undercut assurances and assertions by the bill's designers. For example, advocates for Senate bill, including President Obama in his August 9th news conference keep repeating the same inaccurate falsehood that legalized aliens will have to pay back taxes. They will not.

There is however, another more basic reason that the "details" have generated so much debate and controversy. That is because they have become a way of raising the most basic immigration issues that the Gang of Eight simply began by accepting, and didn't really debate.

Yes, the Senate committee that met in secret to draft the S.744 legislation consisted of equal number of Republicans and Democrats (Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.); Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.); Bob Menendez (D-N.J.); Marco Rubio (R-Fla.); and Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.)., but their policy positions on immigration ranged from similar to identical. And their positions were not a result of rigorous debate with those who strong disagreed with them, but were rather the likeminded views that all the members started with, including the following:

  • All of them accepted the basic premise that the country's 11.5 million illegal aliens would have a "pathway to citizenship".

  • All of them accepted the view that border security should be enhanced, but that border security would not really affect the fact that illegal aliens would immediately gain legal status as soon as the bill was signed.

  • All of then agreed that the total number of legal immigrants, the statutory ceiling, would be substantially raised. That would result in the addition of as many as a million new legal immigrants every year in addition to the one million already entering the country.

  • All of them agreed that family reunification, with its attendant issues of chain migration of immediate and extended family members, would continue to dominate the immigration admission process for many years to come.

With these basic premises as a starting point, the individual interest horse trading began in earnest: so many new less-educated immigrants for business; so many new technically trained immigrants for tech industries; so many new agricultural workers for large, influential farming interests; large grants of money to immigrant advocacy organizations to facilitate "outreach" and registration, and so on up to and including special dispensations for foreign ski instructors.

In Washington, this counts as business as usual, but it comes with a price. That price is increasing public cynicism and alienation from our basic legislative and policy processes.

Next: President Obama's Immigration Sophistry: Part 2