Commentary Magazine


Topic: border security

The Immigration Imperative

Once again, two of the leading voices of American conservatism have joined forces to try to thwart any chance of immigration reform. Last July, William Kristol, the publisher of the Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review co-wrote an article that appeared in both publications denouncing the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. Their arguments won favor with the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives and the bill never saw the light of day in the House for the rest of 2013. Nor will it resurface in 2014, but House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that he intends to heed some of Kristol’s and Lowry’s admonitions about the perils of all such large-scale bills that few completely understand. As the New York Times reports, the GOP leadership will consider the Senate bill’s separate components and allow the House to debate and vote on measures for securing the borders, as well as those dealing with the status of the 11 million illegal aliens already in the country and other reforms to deal with a woefully dysfunctional system.

But Kristol and Lowry are once again fiercely resisting the prospect of any debate in the House, let alone a vote on immigration reform. Echoing the dismay of some among the party’s grass roots, Kristol and Lowry have advised Boehner and his colleagues literally to “do nothing” on the issue. They believe that even allowing bills to come to the floor will provoke a bitter, internecine battle among Republicans, one that will hamstring the party in its efforts to hold the House and win back the Senate this fall. Both say that the Obama administration can’t be trusted to secure the border and fear that even an “innocuous” measure passed by the House that fails to deal with the dilemma of the illegals should be avoided lest it be transformed into something truly dangerous in a conference with the Senate. They say there is no urgency to act on immigration and the GOP should shelve the entire topic to await another day after they have won in November, or perhaps even after until a Republican is installed in the White House.

While their fears of an intra-party battle on immigration and their cynicism about a lawless Obama administration are far from unreasonable, this time around Boehner should not follow their counsel. Despite the dangers to the party of a debate or a vote on the issue, the House has a responsibility to act. To fail to do so for either partisan reasons or an understandably jaundiced view of how the Obama administration would execute the law will not only haunt the GOP for years to come, but is also bad public policy.

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Once again, two of the leading voices of American conservatism have joined forces to try to thwart any chance of immigration reform. Last July, William Kristol, the publisher of the Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review co-wrote an article that appeared in both publications denouncing the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. Their arguments won favor with the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives and the bill never saw the light of day in the House for the rest of 2013. Nor will it resurface in 2014, but House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that he intends to heed some of Kristol’s and Lowry’s admonitions about the perils of all such large-scale bills that few completely understand. As the New York Times reports, the GOP leadership will consider the Senate bill’s separate components and allow the House to debate and vote on measures for securing the borders, as well as those dealing with the status of the 11 million illegal aliens already in the country and other reforms to deal with a woefully dysfunctional system.

But Kristol and Lowry are once again fiercely resisting the prospect of any debate in the House, let alone a vote on immigration reform. Echoing the dismay of some among the party’s grass roots, Kristol and Lowry have advised Boehner and his colleagues literally to “do nothing” on the issue. They believe that even allowing bills to come to the floor will provoke a bitter, internecine battle among Republicans, one that will hamstring the party in its efforts to hold the House and win back the Senate this fall. Both say that the Obama administration can’t be trusted to secure the border and fear that even an “innocuous” measure passed by the House that fails to deal with the dilemma of the illegals should be avoided lest it be transformed into something truly dangerous in a conference with the Senate. They say there is no urgency to act on immigration and the GOP should shelve the entire topic to await another day after they have won in November, or perhaps even after until a Republican is installed in the White House.

While their fears of an intra-party battle on immigration and their cynicism about a lawless Obama administration are far from unreasonable, this time around Boehner should not follow their counsel. Despite the dangers to the party of a debate or a vote on the issue, the House has a responsibility to act. To fail to do so for either partisan reasons or an understandably jaundiced view of how the Obama administration would execute the law will not only haunt the GOP for years to come, but is also bad public policy.

Both Kristol and Lowry are on firm ground when they say the American people are not clamoring for immigration reform. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed immigration to be at the bottom of citizens’ priorities, well below more urgent concerns about the economy and a host of other issues. Indeed, only climate change ranked lower than immigration in terms of the urgency with which the issue judged by a majority of Americans.

They’re also right about the dangers of a GOP civil war over immigration. Many conservatives and Tea Partiers are adamant opponents of any legislation that would address the problem, even if it included, as did the Senate bill, tough new provisions for policing the border. Like National Review, they are appalled at the prospect of “amnesty” for the 11 million illegals even if they have no answer for resolving this dilemma other than impractical ideas such as more deportations. They are equally opposed to addressing the status of the children of illegals and treat DREAM act measures that seek to give these individuals—who, unlike their parents, have broken no law —a chance to attain citizenship.

Reform proponents rightly answer that de facto “amnesty” is in place already, with the government unable to force illegals to leave the country or to grant legal status to those who are honest, hard-working contributors to our society. Indeed, even a bill that stops short of a path to citizenship will face the unswerving opposition of many Republicans.

But just because it won’t be easy doesn’t mean immigration reform, even in a far more truncated form than the Senate bill, isn’t worth doing. Congress has an obligation to try to fix what is broken in our government and there is nothing more dysfunctional than an immigration system that doesn’t work well for those who obey our laws or those who came here illegally largely for economic reasons. Republicans have good reason not to trust the administration to secure the border. The responsible answer to those fears is to write a bill without loopholes and to use the power of the purse to ensure that the will of Congress is obeyed.

As for the political fallout from an immigration debate, Republicans will survive a dustup over the issue. The real fear here is not that anger over the discussion will tear Republicans apart in a manner that will prevent them from taking back the Senate but the fact that opponents of immigration reform know they will lose in the House just as they did in the Senate if a vote is held. As long as Republicans keep their promise to address border security first, there is no reason that Republicans should fear to act on the issue.

Of course, lurking behind this argument is the ongoing discussion about the Republican problems with Hispanic voters. Kristol and Lowry and other conservatives have rightly pointed out that any Republicans who believe passing immigration reform will attract large numbers of Hispanic voters are mistaken. There is no quid pro quo here and this largely liberal group is not going to be enticed into embracing the GOP because of this one issue.

But the problem here goes deeper than the Hispanic vote. As I’ve written before, Kristol and Lowry were wrong to assert last July that, in contrast to previous debates, this round has not been tarnished by anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic rhetoric by GOP foes of immigration reform. The danger is not just that Republicans may be writing off Hispanic voters for the foreseeable future by tabling reform, but that they are in peril of being seen by the electorate as intolerant.

Republicans have an obligation to oppose Barack Obama’s big-government agenda. But wherever possible, they must do all they can to govern responsibly. There are aspects of immigration on which common ground can be established between both parties. Just saying no to immigration is an option for Republicans, but it is not a responsible one. Nor is it a choice that enhances their chances to win in 2014 or beyond.

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Immigration Debate Goes Off the Rails

It’s hard to know what to think about the debate about immigration reform in the aftermath of yesterday’s move to strengthen the gang of eight’s proposal by including an unprecedented beefing up of border security. After months of carrying on about the lack of teeth in the bill’s language about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants in the future, critics were confounded by a decision by the sponsors to accept new amendments that nearly doubled the number of border patrol agents and mandated the completion of a fence, as well as included a host of other ideas that will make it a lot harder to cross over into the United States from Mexico without permission. But the response from most of those complaining about the measure was a big “so what?”

By doubling down on border security in a way that might even be considered overkill, the gang has made a serious effort to address a deficiency in their bill. But listening to some of the criticisms of the effort, you get the feeling that there really is nothing they can do to win over many of their opponents. After having long called for a strengthening of the border patrol, they are unimpressed because they say the new measures won’t be implemented or won’t work quickly enough. As the Wall Street Journal editorial column noted earlier this week, the refusal of the bill’s foes to take yes for an answer on this issue shows that their reliance on the issue was nothing more than a “ruse” intended to divert the discussion from what’s really motivating their stand: their opposition to any measure that makes it easier to enter the United States and work here legally.

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It’s hard to know what to think about the debate about immigration reform in the aftermath of yesterday’s move to strengthen the gang of eight’s proposal by including an unprecedented beefing up of border security. After months of carrying on about the lack of teeth in the bill’s language about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants in the future, critics were confounded by a decision by the sponsors to accept new amendments that nearly doubled the number of border patrol agents and mandated the completion of a fence, as well as included a host of other ideas that will make it a lot harder to cross over into the United States from Mexico without permission. But the response from most of those complaining about the measure was a big “so what?”

By doubling down on border security in a way that might even be considered overkill, the gang has made a serious effort to address a deficiency in their bill. But listening to some of the criticisms of the effort, you get the feeling that there really is nothing they can do to win over many of their opponents. After having long called for a strengthening of the border patrol, they are unimpressed because they say the new measures won’t be implemented or won’t work quickly enough. As the Wall Street Journal editorial column noted earlier this week, the refusal of the bill’s foes to take yes for an answer on this issue shows that their reliance on the issue was nothing more than a “ruse” intended to divert the discussion from what’s really motivating their stand: their opposition to any measure that makes it easier to enter the United States and work here legally.

Fortunately, not every skeptic on the right is insensible to what is going on here. Last night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly endorsed the reform package. As O’Reilly noted, reform of a failed system is just “the right thing to do” about a difficult problem. He’s right to note that the bill is complicated and will take a long time to implement. But it also provides the only possible solution to the situation. The bill’s critics seem to prefer an unworkable status quo simply because they are horrified by the idea that many of those here illegally will be provided with a difficult path to citizenship. They keep talking about “amnesty” for illegals, but that is no argument against reform since if the bill fails, the 11 million undocumented residents of this country will still be here.

But O’Reilly is not being joined by many of the other leading conservative talkers. Laura Ingraham immediately answered O’Reilly on his own program. She seemed to be saying that conservatives should be working to stop anything that President Obama and many Democrats supported. Like Ingraham, Sean Hannity, another Fox host, just doesn’t trust the government and considers GOP supporters of the bill to be “suckers.” Ann Coulter, who appeared on his show last night, mocked the idea that 20,000 new border patrolmen, the fence and other measures would do any good, leading me back to the notion I expressed a couple of days ago that perhaps only the construction of a Game of Thrones-style 700-foot-tall ice wall to stop both job seekers and zombies would impress her. Perhaps such a wall will be created after, as she proposed, a Republican-controlled Senate without Marco Rubio is elected.

What we’ve heard in the last two days proves the Journal was right. This argument has never really been about border security. It’s about the reluctance of some people to face up to reality about immigration, which has always been a net plus for the American economy and will be again if this plan is put into motion. There is no rational or fair solution to the question of what to do with the 11 million illegals here other than to offer them a way to become citizens. So long as this is paired with a serious effort to prevent more illegals from coming, objections boil down to an unthinking distrust of government or an unwholesome dislike of immigration, per se. Such sentiment is nothing new in American political history. It is as old as the hills and should be rejected as it has been in the past. Those on the right who pander to these sentiments or who fear splitting the party or doing anything that might create more Hispanic voters in the future are doing themselves and the Republican Party no service. 

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Border Surge Puts Gang’s Critics to the Test

Opponents of the bipartisan gang of eight immigration reform bill have spent the last few months blasting it as a scam. Their primary argument has been that the legislation was cooked up by Democrats to push legalization of the status of illegal immigrants without doing anything to deal with border security, and that Republican members of the gang like Senator Marco Rubio were either sellouts or dupes. Rubio lent some weight to this talking point when he admitted that enforcement provisions needed to be strengthened in order for it to gain more support or even get his own vote. But an agreement between the gang and two key Republican critics of their work to include an unprecedented buildup along the border with Mexico may have taken the air out of the anti-reform forces’ case.

The deal with Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven calls for what its sponsors are calling a surge that will nearly double the number of border patrol agents deployed in the south as well as drones and mandating the completion of another 700 miles of fence separating the United States and Mexico. While no army or barrier can hermetically seal a frontier that crosses nearly half a continent, this will make it much harder for illegals to cross into the United States and go along way toward satisfying the justified worries about the security of those who live in the path of the migrants and those who bring them to this country. More to the point, it puts immigration reform foes to the test. With this kind of language and funding put into the bill, it is no longer possible to pretend that this is a repeat of the 1986 reform package that failed to stop the flood of job seekers from Mexico despite promises to do so. With enforcement of this kind, we have a right to ask those who oppose the bill: what are they really worried about? If they’re not protecting the border or the rule of law (which is flouted by the continuation of the current failed system), what bothers them about the idea of making it possible to create a viable scheme for legal immigration and the gradual legalization of those who are already here?

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Opponents of the bipartisan gang of eight immigration reform bill have spent the last few months blasting it as a scam. Their primary argument has been that the legislation was cooked up by Democrats to push legalization of the status of illegal immigrants without doing anything to deal with border security, and that Republican members of the gang like Senator Marco Rubio were either sellouts or dupes. Rubio lent some weight to this talking point when he admitted that enforcement provisions needed to be strengthened in order for it to gain more support or even get his own vote. But an agreement between the gang and two key Republican critics of their work to include an unprecedented buildup along the border with Mexico may have taken the air out of the anti-reform forces’ case.

The deal with Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven calls for what its sponsors are calling a surge that will nearly double the number of border patrol agents deployed in the south as well as drones and mandating the completion of another 700 miles of fence separating the United States and Mexico. While no army or barrier can hermetically seal a frontier that crosses nearly half a continent, this will make it much harder for illegals to cross into the United States and go along way toward satisfying the justified worries about the security of those who live in the path of the migrants and those who bring them to this country. More to the point, it puts immigration reform foes to the test. With this kind of language and funding put into the bill, it is no longer possible to pretend that this is a repeat of the 1986 reform package that failed to stop the flood of job seekers from Mexico despite promises to do so. With enforcement of this kind, we have a right to ask those who oppose the bill: what are they really worried about? If they’re not protecting the border or the rule of law (which is flouted by the continuation of the current failed system), what bothers them about the idea of making it possible to create a viable scheme for legal immigration and the gradual legalization of those who are already here?

The answer we’ll get from many immigration foes is that there is something deeply wrong with “rewarding” those 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country with a chance for eventual citizenship. That’s understandable up to a point. Illegal immigrants did break the law. But if they’ve come here to work (generally in jobs that Americans didn’t want) and lead decent crime-free lives, doesn’t it make sense to bring them in out of the shadows and have them paying taxes (as well as fines before they can become citizens) rather than remaining outside the law? Perhaps some still claim that the illegals will, in Mitt Romney’s unfortunate phrase, “self-deport” back to wherever they came from. But we know that won’t happen. Nor will the United States deport 11 million people, many of whom have children that are American citizens. As Rubio has stated again and again, fears about “amnesty” are misplaced since that is what we have now.

Those who also claim that there is a third choice between the status quo and legalization are not being serious. That is not politically possible. Like it or not, the choice is between the gang’s compromise bill—which with its emphasis on border security and steep burdens on those illegals who want to be citizens represents a stark departure from what President Obama and liberal Democrats would like to do—and what we have now.

In the absence of a viable argument about security, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there are some among the bill’s opponents who have a deeper objection to immigration reform. Some of them just don’t want to fix a broken system because they don’t want to do anything that facilitates legal immigration. They forget that immigration has always been an engine of American prosperity, not our impoverishment. They confuse the need to reform our runaway entitlements with the needs of people who come here to work. Even worse, some express worry about the growing number of Hispanics and the political implication of immigration.

Suffice it say that these are not the sorts of points that will win many arguments outside of the hard right. The bill is, like all pieces of legislation on this scale, complicated, too long and stuffed with deals to gain votes. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary. That may not be enough to convince House Republicans who are convinced the party base is anti-immigration. But stripped of a defensible concern about the border, these GOP members need to understand that they are hurting both the country and their party by resorting to less presentable arguments.

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Is Reid Bluffing on Border Security?

The bipartisan immigration reform seems to have gathered momentum in recent weeks, but the path to eventual passage is by no means clear. As Seth noted again yesterday, President Obama continues to walk the fine line between cheerleading for the legislation and statements that could be aimed at alienating potential Republican supporters for the bill. But Obama’s histrionics, such as his completely unnecessary dog-and-pony show for the media yesterday, may not be the real problem. As the Senate prepares to debate the measure and consider amendments, the real obstacle could turn out to be Harry Reid. The majority leader weighed in today on the bill and issued a warning that should worry the gang of eight that produced the reform package more than its opponents.

As Politico reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated on Wednesday that he would not allow the Gang of Eight immigration bill to require stricter border security measures merely in order to attract Republican votes.

“Our goal now is to pass the strongest legislation possible with as many votes as possible while staying true to our principles,” Reid said.

Staying true to principles is one thing, but a refusal to negotiate in good faith with Republicans who are looking to find a way to support the measure is quite another. Reid is on record calling Texas Senator John Cornyn’s amendment that would include a “hard trigger” on enforcement before illegal immigrants can hope for citizenship a poison pill. But unlike Reid, gang leader Chuck Schumer is keeping quiet while making it clear that he is ready to talk to GOP senators who remain on the fence and to come up with a compromise that will strengthen enforcement. Schumer is intent on getting a bill that will have the kind of broad-based support that will give it a chance of passage in the House of Representatives while Reid seems more interested in a result that would ensure it fails in the other body so as to give Democrats a chance to blame the GOP for failure.

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The bipartisan immigration reform seems to have gathered momentum in recent weeks, but the path to eventual passage is by no means clear. As Seth noted again yesterday, President Obama continues to walk the fine line between cheerleading for the legislation and statements that could be aimed at alienating potential Republican supporters for the bill. But Obama’s histrionics, such as his completely unnecessary dog-and-pony show for the media yesterday, may not be the real problem. As the Senate prepares to debate the measure and consider amendments, the real obstacle could turn out to be Harry Reid. The majority leader weighed in today on the bill and issued a warning that should worry the gang of eight that produced the reform package more than its opponents.

As Politico reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated on Wednesday that he would not allow the Gang of Eight immigration bill to require stricter border security measures merely in order to attract Republican votes.

“Our goal now is to pass the strongest legislation possible with as many votes as possible while staying true to our principles,” Reid said.

Staying true to principles is one thing, but a refusal to negotiate in good faith with Republicans who are looking to find a way to support the measure is quite another. Reid is on record calling Texas Senator John Cornyn’s amendment that would include a “hard trigger” on enforcement before illegal immigrants can hope for citizenship a poison pill. But unlike Reid, gang leader Chuck Schumer is keeping quiet while making it clear that he is ready to talk to GOP senators who remain on the fence and to come up with a compromise that will strengthen enforcement. Schumer is intent on getting a bill that will have the kind of broad-based support that will give it a chance of passage in the House of Representatives while Reid seems more interested in a result that would ensure it fails in the other body so as to give Democrats a chance to blame the GOP for failure.

Reid has a point when he says that Cornyn’s insistence on a 90 percent illegal border apprehension rate is probably unrealistic. Nothing short of a great wall that stretches along the length of the border accompanied by massive patrols would be enough to ensure that rate. But, as even gang member Marco Rubio has stated, the bill can stand to have its enforcement mechanism strengthened. What’s needed now is a willingness on the part of both sides of the aisle to compromise on a measure that would make the trigger provisions harder while not making them so tough so as to make it impossible to achieve.

While this may seem like the usual partisan jockeying back and forth that accompanies every legislative challenge, how each side handles the issue of border security is a true test of their sincerity on wanting a solution to a broken immigration system.

For Democrats, a willingness to toughen the measure will answer the question as to whether their goal here is to actually pass a bill or, as many Republicans have long suspected, an attempt to orchestrate a process by which the GOP can be blamed for failure. Schumer understands that while he has the votes for Senate passage, in its current form, the gang’s bipartisan compromise will have little chance in the House. While the two bodies are certain to pass versions that will be different and require delicate negotiations in conference, if the Senate version includes a tougher enforcement mechanism, a deal will be possible.

On the other hand, Republican motives are likewise suspect. If Republicans won’t agree to enforcement mechanisms that contain realistic goals, they will be rightly suspected of merely attempting to sabotage the bill. Just as Democrats act at times as if they are merely trying to maneuver the bill to failure, some conservatives appear to be more interested in preventing the passage of any bill that will allow illegals a path to citizenship than they are in actually fixing a broken system.

As Rubio has repeatedly stated, the talk about “amnesty” from the right is empty rhetoric. The real “amnesty” is the status quo that may not give illegals a way to citizenship but also offers no hope of resolving an untenable situation where more than 11 million persons are in legal limbo. The loose talk among conservatives that immigration reform will merely facilitate the legalization of millions of new Democratic voters merely worsens the Republican Party’s already dismal appeal to Hispanics. If House and Senate conservatives aren’t willing to compromise and accept a tougher enforcement regime in exchange for legalization, it will be possible for Democrats to claim their only goal was denying citizenship to illegals.

The rule of law that right-wingers claim to be defending in this debate isn’t enhanced by votes that will preserve the status quo. Likewise, Democrats who say they want to help resolve the dilemma of 11 million illegals must compromise on enforcement if their campaign is to be viewed as anything but a 2014 election maneuver. Right now, Harry Reid needs to prove that he really wants immigration reform and be willing to change the bill to toughen it up. If that happens, Republicans will face a similar test.

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The Rubio-Heritage Foundation Sideshow

When the Heritage Foundation announced that the pathbreaking D.C. think tank had hired South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint to succeed its influential founder and president Ed Feulner, most of the political world took it as confirmation that Heritage would continue in a direction in which it was already heading. With the establishment of its activist 501(c)4 arm Heritage Action for America, the organization had been taking a much more involved role in fights over congressional legislation, and even began “scoring” legislators on their votes.

They had made it clear, as well, that they would openly challenge members of Congress on legislation they opposed before the voting actually took place. And that is how DeMint, who as a senator was instrumental in bringing Marco Rubio into the Tea Party fold, came to spend the last two days arguing with Rubio through the political press. The tiff began in earnest on Monday when Heritage (not Heritage Action) released a study purporting to show the cost of Rubio’s immigration reform proposal at $6.3 trillion. As Politico reported, conservatives struck back at Heritage. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Paul Ryan, and scholars at the Cato Institute accused Heritage of ignoring the economic benefits of immigration to the country. Yesterday, Rubio responded:

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When the Heritage Foundation announced that the pathbreaking D.C. think tank had hired South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint to succeed its influential founder and president Ed Feulner, most of the political world took it as confirmation that Heritage would continue in a direction in which it was already heading. With the establishment of its activist 501(c)4 arm Heritage Action for America, the organization had been taking a much more involved role in fights over congressional legislation, and even began “scoring” legislators on their votes.

They had made it clear, as well, that they would openly challenge members of Congress on legislation they opposed before the voting actually took place. And that is how DeMint, who as a senator was instrumental in bringing Marco Rubio into the Tea Party fold, came to spend the last two days arguing with Rubio through the political press. The tiff began in earnest on Monday when Heritage (not Heritage Action) released a study purporting to show the cost of Rubio’s immigration reform proposal at $6.3 trillion. As Politico reported, conservatives struck back at Heritage. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Paul Ryan, and scholars at the Cato Institute accused Heritage of ignoring the economic benefits of immigration to the country. Yesterday, Rubio responded:

“I have tremendous respect for [conservatives who oppose immigration reform] and for Jim DeMint,” Rubio told POLITICO Tuesday. “I agree with him on literally 96 percent of the issues, that was my score last year with Heritage. I think on this one we just have a different view on the best way to approach it.”

Rubio’s office and Heritage discussed amendments to the bill as recently as Monday, according to the Florida Republican. Rubio believes only a comprehensive approach to immigration will work, unlike conservatives in DeMint’s camp.

This morning, Heritage defended itself:

Heritage has worked with Senator Rubio on numerous issues, and we admire him. He is right: Our study is “an argument for welfare reform and entitlement reform.” He cannot pretend, however, that this already herculean task will be made easier after we have added millions of new people to a failing entitlement system. The time to fix it is now. We are ready to work with him and any man and woman of either party who realizes the urgency of our plight.

There are certainly those defending Heritage, but aside from the numbers there’s another problem with Heritage’s decision to oppose the bill on financial grounds: it almost certainly won’t matter, because the real issue is over border security. This is a point Ben Domenech has been making in the Transom, though an early version of his argument is online here. As Domenech notes, and as Byron York explained yesterday, the public is skeptical of the government’s commitment to secure the border, and that is the objection that can kill the bill:

A new survey by pollster Scott Rasmussen shows a strong public belief that currently illegal immigrants should be granted legal status only after new border security measures are in place.  The poll also shows little public faith that the federal government will actually secure the border, along with a slight decline in support for immigration reform in general.

There is good reason for this. As I’ve written in the past, border security is the “waste, fraud and abuse” of immigration promises. If the federal government wanted to secure the border and knew how to do so, they would have done so. And they certainly wouldn’t need to make it a bargaining chip in reform efforts. The fact of the matter is that the reason the controversial Arizona immigration law came about in the first place was that the federal government wasn’t securing the border, and state politicians grew tired of waiting. An unsecured border, in the age of asymmetric warfare, is an indefensible lapse in governmental responsibility.

But so is our current immigration system, which doesn’t provide the low-skilled immigration the economy needs and which turns laborers into elements of a black market, which is degrading and economically counterproductive. The country’s current immigration system, then, is an obscenely broken bureaucratic mess. But while the need for reform is clear, the skeptics of the current bill are on firm ground with regard to border security and enforcement.

The current “gang of eight” proposal sets a benchmark for border security that must be met–or else a new bureaucracy will be set up to figure out how to meet the benchmark. But the benchmark is based on knowing not only how many people are caught crossing the border but on how many people are trying to cross the border–an obviously fluid, at times subjective, and virtually improvable statistic. And bureaucracies love such statistics, because they can make them say whatever they want them to say. And a major problem with that is that bureaucracies require the perpetuation of a problem in order to continue justifying their existence–and their staffs’ often-inflated federal salaries and benefits.

The Heritage-Rubio spat over entitlement costs is essentially a sideshow, then. If Republicans are satisfied with border security provisions, they’ll support the law (though it remains to be seen if Democrats will). If not, they won’t, and the bill will almost certainly fail in the House, if not in the Senate first.

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Can Rubio Survive the Right’s Onslaught?

It’s been a couple of weeks since the so-called Senate “gang of eight” unveiled the bipartisan immigration reform compromise proposal, but there’s little doubt about which of the eight have now inextricably tied their political fate to that of this bill. Though he may be a junior member of the gang, the legislation is now as much about Marco Rubio and his presidential hopes as it is about the issue itself. So it’s no surprise that our friends and colleagues at National Review, who were once to be counted among the Florida senator’s greatest enthusiasts, are now labeling the immigration bill as “Rubio’s Folly” in the cover story of their latest issue.

NR and a host of other conservative critics, including Rubio’s erstwhile friend, former Senator Jim DeMint, who steered the Heritage Foundation into the fight against reform, have established the meme that Rubio was “rolled” by Democrat Chuck Schumer and the other liberals on the gang. Their point is that promises about border security in the bill are either imaginary or not to be relied upon. NR’s formidable writer Stanley Kurtz adds to this indictment by claiming today that the funding for efforts to integrate immigrants into American society is similarly fraudulent. But that piece, like many other critiques of Rubio and the bill, seem to take the position that the only responsible position for conservatives to take is to oppose any further immigration at all under the current circumstances. With liberals threatening to add poison pill amendments about including rights for gay spouses into the bill, it’s little wonder that Rubio has at times sounded worried about the bill’s chances of passage in the GOP-controlled House.

This is the point in the drama where a relatively inexperienced senator who has been promoted to the political big leagues too fast might falter or, even worse, panic and lash out at his critics, leading to a meltdown that could doom his ability to ever go back to conservatives to ask for their votes for president. But so far Rubio has not only kept his cool but also maintained a balanced approach to critics of the bill that speaks well for his ability to survive the onslaught against it, which has increasingly been focused as much on him as the details of the scheme.

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It’s been a couple of weeks since the so-called Senate “gang of eight” unveiled the bipartisan immigration reform compromise proposal, but there’s little doubt about which of the eight have now inextricably tied their political fate to that of this bill. Though he may be a junior member of the gang, the legislation is now as much about Marco Rubio and his presidential hopes as it is about the issue itself. So it’s no surprise that our friends and colleagues at National Review, who were once to be counted among the Florida senator’s greatest enthusiasts, are now labeling the immigration bill as “Rubio’s Folly” in the cover story of their latest issue.

NR and a host of other conservative critics, including Rubio’s erstwhile friend, former Senator Jim DeMint, who steered the Heritage Foundation into the fight against reform, have established the meme that Rubio was “rolled” by Democrat Chuck Schumer and the other liberals on the gang. Their point is that promises about border security in the bill are either imaginary or not to be relied upon. NR’s formidable writer Stanley Kurtz adds to this indictment by claiming today that the funding for efforts to integrate immigrants into American society is similarly fraudulent. But that piece, like many other critiques of Rubio and the bill, seem to take the position that the only responsible position for conservatives to take is to oppose any further immigration at all under the current circumstances. With liberals threatening to add poison pill amendments about including rights for gay spouses into the bill, it’s little wonder that Rubio has at times sounded worried about the bill’s chances of passage in the GOP-controlled House.

This is the point in the drama where a relatively inexperienced senator who has been promoted to the political big leagues too fast might falter or, even worse, panic and lash out at his critics, leading to a meltdown that could doom his ability to ever go back to conservatives to ask for their votes for president. But so far Rubio has not only kept his cool but also maintained a balanced approach to critics of the bill that speaks well for his ability to survive the onslaught against it, which has increasingly been focused as much on him as the details of the scheme.

In his Wall Street Journal op-ed on the issue published today, Rubio has made it clear he has no intention of letting the bill’s opponents seize the issue of border security. He may well have to insist, as Hugh Hewitt advises him today at Townhall.com, on the building of a fence between the United States and Mexico in order to convince conservatives that the U.S. can regain control of its border.

But as much as Rubio has rightly resolved to use the legislative process to toughen up the bill, he also seems to have caught onto the basic dynamic of the immigration debate:

Of course, there are those who will never support immigration reform no matter what changes we make. Even if we address every concern they raise, they will likely come up with new ones. They have a long list of complaints but typically never offer a solution of their own.

Enhanced border security measures will convince some reluctant conservatives to back the bill. But if, as Hewitt suggests, the issue becomes the moral equivalent of the debate over the Panama Canal in the 1970s, it could sink Rubio’s presidential hopes.

Turning the Canal over to the government of Panama was both logical and good policy, but it rubbed many patriotic conservatives the wrong way in the same way that some today feel any bill that would allow illegals to eventually become citizens is unthinkable. Supporters of the Canal transfer—including NR founder William F. Buckley—had all the arguments on their side, but opponents like Ronald Reagan had emotion on theirs. The memory of that debate—which did not affect the eventual disposition of the Canal but which did help make Reagan’s 1980 nomination a bit more inevitable—ought to scare Rubio.

But those who think Rubio will be road kill as an anti-reform push KO’s the bill in the House may be underestimating him and the intelligence of many GOP House members. If President Obama and the liberals avoid the temptation to insert their poison pill amendments into the legislation in the hope of retaining the issue in order to keep scaring Hispanics about Republicans, there is every chance it can still pass. The alternative to this bill is, as Rubio states, not an enforcement-only measure that would build a fence and punish the illegals but the maintenance of the status quo that is the real “amnesty” proposal available to the country. Such an outcome would hurt Republicans for a generation as well as ensure that none of the goals that rule-of-law conservatives would like to establish on the immigration issue are met.

The maelstrom surrounding the immigration bill is beginning to look more like a new chapter in Profiles in Courage than the purely a cynical attempt on Rubio’s part to assimilate into the Republican Party and get elected president that many conservatives have assumed it to be. The outcome of the struggle and its effect on his reputation is far from certain. But if he stays positive and manages to strengthen the enforcement mechanisms in the legislation—which is the key test that will determine whether it will pass—Rubio may emerge from this battle stronger than he was before it started.

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The Untold Story of the Illegal Immigration Debate

While I favor a (difficult but achievable) path to legal status and citizenship for illegal immigrants in America, it also seems to me to be a good idea to build a fence/wall on the southern border, both for substantive and symbolic reasons. That is, I believe doing so would make crossing the border to America both more difficult (as it should be) and signal to undocumented workers that America is a sovereign nation that takes its sovereignty seriously.

Still, we need to bear in mind what the facts of the situation are when it comes to illegal immigration. And here Linda Chavez’s recent essay in COMMENTARY is helpful, including this:

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While I favor a (difficult but achievable) path to legal status and citizenship for illegal immigrants in America, it also seems to me to be a good idea to build a fence/wall on the southern border, both for substantive and symbolic reasons. That is, I believe doing so would make crossing the border to America both more difficult (as it should be) and signal to undocumented workers that America is a sovereign nation that takes its sovereignty seriously.

Still, we need to bear in mind what the facts of the situation are when it comes to illegal immigration. And here Linda Chavez’s recent essay in COMMENTARY is helpful, including this:

illegal immigration actually peaked during the boom of the late 1990s, after which it declined almost steadily except for a one-year increase in 2004, after President Bush raised the issue of granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. Today, illegal immigration is at its lowest since 1972. Indeed, more Mexican immigrants are now leaving the country than coming here, with net immigration from Mexico below zero for the first time since the racially motivated mass deportations of Mexicans (some of them U.S. citizens) during the 1930s. And, though conservatives are loath to acknowledge it, President Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than any president in modern history.

The Obama administration in fact deported a record 410,000 people in 2012–an increase of more than a quarter from 2007.

The largely untold story of the immigration debate, then, is that in the last few years–thanks to the efforts first of President Bush and now President Obama, as well as border state governors–we’ve seen a massive increase in border enforcement. The southern border is as protected as it has ever been. That development, along with a weak economy, has led to a net outflow of people from the U.S. to Mexico. That hasn’t happened in 40 years.  

I mention all that because if you listen to some critics of comprehensive immigration reform, they speak as if (a) nothing has been done to secure the border and (b) the flood of illegal immigrants to America has never been higher. That simply isn’t true. The situation, in fact, is more nearly the opposite.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take reasonable steps to do even more to secure our border. But the debate would be helped if it were informed by the reality on the ground, not claims firmly rooted in mid-air.

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