Commentary Magazine


Topic: immigration

Europe Tilts Right on Immigration

Last night riot police had to be dispatched to disperse angry crowds in some of the French towns where the far-right National Front has been voted into power. While FN leader Marine Le Pen claims to have gone to considerable lengths to rid her party of the open anti-Semitism and xenophobia that marred its image under her father’s leadership, many remain skeptical about how much of an integral change has really taken place within the FN.

Yet for the first time since 1995 Le Pen’s party has mayors back in office, having won control of 11 towns in the local elections held this weekend. Indeed, from having just 60 councilors the party has jumped to some 12,000 as of the latest elections. This surge may become a familiar pattern in Europe, for amidst worsening economic conditions throughout many European countries, observers acknowledge a revival of far-right and neo-fascist forces, most notably with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece.

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Last night riot police had to be dispatched to disperse angry crowds in some of the French towns where the far-right National Front has been voted into power. While FN leader Marine Le Pen claims to have gone to considerable lengths to rid her party of the open anti-Semitism and xenophobia that marred its image under her father’s leadership, many remain skeptical about how much of an integral change has really taken place within the FN.

Yet for the first time since 1995 Le Pen’s party has mayors back in office, having won control of 11 towns in the local elections held this weekend. Indeed, from having just 60 councilors the party has jumped to some 12,000 as of the latest elections. This surge may become a familiar pattern in Europe, for amidst worsening economic conditions throughout many European countries, observers acknowledge a revival of far-right and neo-fascist forces, most notably with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece.

In with this evident rise of nationalistic and anti-immigration parties some choose to include the improving fortunes of the United Kingdom Independence Party in Britain. Writing for the Gatestone Institute, Peter Martino draws a direct comparison between Le Pen’s FN and Nigel Farage’s UKIP, noting that in both cases these parties have been able to exploit growing public dissatisfaction with the liberal ruling elite and the lackluster politics of the governing class. While UKIP is certainly an expression of a populist conservative backlash, it would be wrong to group it in with the far-right parties on the march in mainland Europe.

As with the first time that Europe was convulsed by the rallying of far-right and fascist movements, the impetus has been primarily economic. No doubt today’s far-right parties feed on general dissatisfaction with the multiculturalist policies promoted by Europe’s metropolitan politicians, but much of the anti-immigrant animus is undoubtedly being driven by dizzying levels of unemployment. In France unemployment exceeds three million where just 40 percent of the population has work. Socialist France has not run a surplus since 1974; it is unsurprising, then, that President Hollande, with his 75 percent top tax rate, is disliked by a record three-quarters of voters.

The New Yorker’s Alexander Stille has implied that the weekend’s election results stem from a failure of Hollande’s party to reform its socialist ways. Yet in casting their votes for the National Front, those who did so were hardly going for a more free-market option. Just like the populist right-wing parties of the past, Le Pen claims that her party is neither left nor right. When it comes to economic matters the FN is both undeniably protectionist and essentially anti-capitalist. Le Pen has actually called for still higher state investment and backs government control over everything from energy to financial services. And like other far-right European parties, such as Austria’s Freedom Party, the French National Front is vocally hostile to globalization.

Peter Martino does give recognition to the differing stance that FN and UKIP take on economic matters, but this difference is far more fundamental than might be initially apparent. UKIP has increasingly been stressing itself as the party of liberty, perhaps seeking to imitate at least some of the sentiments popular in the Tea Party. Its primary quarrel with the EU appears to be a democracy-oriented one; that Brussels’s bureaucracy is draining sovereignty from the British parliament and its electorate. More so than even the Conservative party, UKIP is presenting itself as the party of private enterprise and small business. Many in both the UKIP leadership and the rank and file have taken to describing themselves as libertarian–although one gets the impression that they don’t quite understand the term in the same way that Americans do. In many respects UKIP is the most socially conservative political grouping in Britain, the only major party to take a stand against the recent implementation of gay marriage. 

While UKIP has voiced opposition to multicultualism, as well as to the political correctness that surrounds it, the party’s calls for reducing immigration levels seem not to be motivated by the xenophobia that its detractors allege. UKIP has won voters by condemning the mass flow of immigrants brought by the EU’s open border policy, but party spokespeople have emphasized that this isn’t a matter of race, claiming that they would much prefer to see highly skilled immigrants coming to Britain from other parts of the world than unskilled workers from Eastern and Southern Europe. Indeed, Farage has advocated leaving the EU on the grounds that Britain could then become more engaged with the global economy, a far cry from Le Pen’s protectionist anti-globalization.

Of course, both UKIP and the National Front expect significant wins in the upcoming EU elections, and both hope to expand their representation to their respective national parliaments at the first opportunity. Yet whereas anti-immigrant racism and anti-Semitism was very much the FN’s raison d’etre under Jean Marie Le Pen, it is not clear that this was ever the case for UKIP. As Martino also noted, UKIP refuses to ally with the FN so long as it has anti-Semites in its midst. Furthermore, in those instances where its own candidates have been exposed as racist they have been rapidly and unceremoniously ejected from the party. Across Europe the far-right may be benefiting from the economic difficulties currently marring the continent, but it would be wrong to throw Britain’s more liberty-oriented UKIP in with those parading neo-fascist tendencies.   

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Obama’s Priorities v. Those of the American People

President Obama has recently said that the trend of growing inequality is “certainly my highest priority.” He might be interested to know that it’s not the highest priority for the people he was voted to represent.

Not even close.

A new Gallup poll found the 10 most important issues facing the American people to be, in order, (1) unemployment/jobs; (2) economy in general; (3) government; (4) health care; (5) federal budget deficit/federal debt; (6) immigration/illegal aliens; (7) ethical/moral decline; (8) education; (9) lack of money; and (10) poverty/hunger/homelessness. Even among Democrats, income inequality doesn’t rate. Neither, by the way, does raising the minimum wage, climate change, and gun control–three other issues Mr. Obama has made central to his second-term agenda.

So why is the president talking about issues that the public has so little concern about?

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President Obama has recently said that the trend of growing inequality is “certainly my highest priority.” He might be interested to know that it’s not the highest priority for the people he was voted to represent.

Not even close.

A new Gallup poll found the 10 most important issues facing the American people to be, in order, (1) unemployment/jobs; (2) economy in general; (3) government; (4) health care; (5) federal budget deficit/federal debt; (6) immigration/illegal aliens; (7) ethical/moral decline; (8) education; (9) lack of money; and (10) poverty/hunger/homelessness. Even among Democrats, income inequality doesn’t rate. Neither, by the way, does raising the minimum wage, climate change, and gun control–three other issues Mr. Obama has made central to his second-term agenda.

So why is the president talking about issues that the public has so little concern about?

Part of the explanation, I suspect, is that Mr. Obama really believes in his (progressive) agenda and feels more liberated in his second term to pursue it. But I also imagine that the president has very little to say that’s helpful to him or his party about unemployment and jobs, the economy in general, health care, and the debt. So Mr. Obama is turning to other issues, hoping to shift the American people’s focus from what they care about to what he cares about.

This effort is turning out to be a bust. The public is tuning the president out and turning him off. His words are like white noise, and he increasingly looks to be a lame duck–one day impotent, the next day irrelevant, drifting along in a world of his own. 

Mr. Obama seems to think that as a second-term president, he can talk about what he darn well pleases. Maybe. We’ll see what the voters think about that in November, when they get their chance to render their judgment on his second term. 

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EU Shows Contempt for National Sovereignty, Democracy

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

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Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

As punishment for daring to express an opinion out of line with reigning federalist doctrine, Eurocrats have been threatening all kinds of retaliation. Most prominently, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, has warned that Switzerland’s economic ties with the EU could be jeopardized if it decides to implement the will of its voters. Part of the reaction is no doubt out of fear that the Swiss vote could exacerbate existing sentiments in other European countries who would like a pause in the policy of unrestricted immigration. In Britain in particular, public pressure led government ministers to broach the idea of setting a cap on the number immigrants who could come to Britain–or at least claim welfare there–when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU at the beginning of this year. Naturally, no such allowance was permitted by Brussels, which is curious, given that when Poland joined in 2004, Germany (usually such a staunch advocate of having a maximalist European superstate) defended its national interest and had immigration from Poland restricted.

The Swiss vote touches on two particularly sensitive issues for European federalists. First is the ardent belief in the abolition of nation-states through open-border policies, which by promoting mass migration ultimately deconstruct any sense of distinctive national identity between member countries. Second, and attached to this first program, comes the deep dislike of the democratic process for Europe in general and nation-states in particular. Democracy at the national level reinforces the idea that the elected parliaments of individual countries have a legitimate right to govern and claim sovereignty. More broadly, Eurocrats have a latent distrust of populism. They believe that they have divined the correct path for Europe’s shining future, a future that cannot be put at risk by the prejudices, petty interests, and backwardness of the public.

Switzerland’s citizens may think they know what immigration policy is best for their country. They’re wrong. This is another matter Brussels thinks it can decide for them.  

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Postscript to the Coca-Cola Ad

Yesterday I criticized Fox News’s Eric Bolling and talk show host Glenn Beck for their condemnation of the Coca-Cola ad that featured America the Beautiful being sung in seven languages.

One of the things that made the critical response to the ad so odd is that those who were featured in the ad weren’t illegal immigrants; they were legal immigrants. And still some on the right couldn’t contain their unhappiness. What many of us consider one of America’s great strengths, its immigrant population and ethnic and cultural diversity, makes some conservatives palpably uncomfortable. No wonder the Republican nominee in 2012 lost the non-white vote by 63 points. Maybe the goal is to get it to a 70-point margin. 

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Yesterday I criticized Fox News’s Eric Bolling and talk show host Glenn Beck for their condemnation of the Coca-Cola ad that featured America the Beautiful being sung in seven languages.

One of the things that made the critical response to the ad so odd is that those who were featured in the ad weren’t illegal immigrants; they were legal immigrants. And still some on the right couldn’t contain their unhappiness. What many of us consider one of America’s great strengths, its immigrant population and ethnic and cultural diversity, makes some conservatives palpably uncomfortable. No wonder the Republican nominee in 2012 lost the non-white vote by 63 points. Maybe the goal is to get it to a 70-point margin. 

It is worth pointing out that Mr. Bolling’s The Five colleague Dana Perino made this nice observation: “I would be very happy if every language in the world was singing America the Beautiful, because that means we have people focused on the best country on earth in history.” Greg Gutfeld added that he interpreted the ad “as a compliment to the United States. People know that we’re the best country in the world, which is why people want to come here.”

Which means that at least three of The Five (Bob Beckel being the other) disagreed with Bolling. Call it a welcome sign.

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A Disturbing Conservative Reaction to the Coke Ad

Several figures on the right–including Glenn Beck and Eric Bolling–had strongly negative reactions to this ad by Coca-Cola that aired during the Super Bowl.

The ad featured a rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung in seven different languages. It was intended to showcase the country’s “incredible diversity,” in the words of the soft drink company. That was simply too much for Beck. “So somebody tweeted last night and said, ‘Glenn, what did you think of the Coke ad?’” Beck said. “And I said, ‘Why did you need that to divide us politically?’ Because that’s all this ad is. It’s in your face, and if you don’t like it, if you’re offended by it, you’re a racist. If you do like it, you’re for immigration. You’re for progress. That’s all this is: to divide people.”

Fox News’s Bolling, while agreeing that “America is a melting pot,” said he thought Coke “used the wrong song” to demonstrate that point. “The problem here,” Bolling said, “and it’s not even bad if you have all the different cultures singing a song, showing America is a mix of different cultures, but don’t put it to ‘America the Beautiful.’ You used the wrong song. You ticked off a lot of Coke drinkers, you ticked off a lot of Americans.”

What a weird and disturbing reaction. The ad was hardly “in your face.” It was in fact an affirmation that people from different cultures and lands and tongues are drawn to America and can love her, not because it’s their native land but because it’s a special land. America is, in the words of Ben Wattenberg, the “first universal nation.” The Coke ad beautifully captures the spirit behind the phrase on the Seal of the United States: E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.” 

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Several figures on the right–including Glenn Beck and Eric Bolling–had strongly negative reactions to this ad by Coca-Cola that aired during the Super Bowl.

The ad featured a rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung in seven different languages. It was intended to showcase the country’s “incredible diversity,” in the words of the soft drink company. That was simply too much for Beck. “So somebody tweeted last night and said, ‘Glenn, what did you think of the Coke ad?’” Beck said. “And I said, ‘Why did you need that to divide us politically?’ Because that’s all this ad is. It’s in your face, and if you don’t like it, if you’re offended by it, you’re a racist. If you do like it, you’re for immigration. You’re for progress. That’s all this is: to divide people.”

Fox News’s Bolling, while agreeing that “America is a melting pot,” said he thought Coke “used the wrong song” to demonstrate that point. “The problem here,” Bolling said, “and it’s not even bad if you have all the different cultures singing a song, showing America is a mix of different cultures, but don’t put it to ‘America the Beautiful.’ You used the wrong song. You ticked off a lot of Coke drinkers, you ticked off a lot of Americans.”

What a weird and disturbing reaction. The ad was hardly “in your face.” It was in fact an affirmation that people from different cultures and lands and tongues are drawn to America and can love her, not because it’s their native land but because it’s a special land. America is, in the words of Ben Wattenberg, the “first universal nation.” The Coke ad beautifully captures the spirit behind the phrase on the Seal of the United States: E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.” 

This is something that not all that long ago nearly all conservatives would have understood. Yet today the ad by Coke is interpreted by some figures on the right as divisive and offensive, a Trojan Horse for immigration reform, as part of the Culture War. And the unmistakable message being sent by these individuals is that people of other cultures are aliens and threats and are therefore unwelcome. “Keep your mouths shut when it comes to our patriotic songs” is the message Messrs. Beck and Bolling are sending. What a brilliant way to appeal to a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse and multicultural.  

Such troubling views are not unknown in American history, of course. But what’s worth noting is that they are deeply at odds with the outlook and capacious spirit of Ronald Reagan. I don’t so much have in mind the fact that Reagan was an outspoken advocate for amnesty and that he signed legislation granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. What I’m referring to goes deeper than that. Reagan continually emphasized the great and vivifying diversity that immigrants brought to this country, and that flowed into and became as one with the national fabric. As he put it:

We have a statue in New York Harbor . . . of a woman holding a torch of welcome to those who enter our country to become Americans. She has greeted millions upon millions of immigrants to our country. She welcomes them still. She represents our open door. All of the immigrants who came to us brought their own music, literature, customs, and ideas. And the marvelous thing, a thing of which we’re proud, is they did not have to relinquish these things in order to fit in. In fact, what they brought to America became American. And this diversity has more than enriched us; it has literally shaped us.

So it has. And Reagan’s words remind us that his generous and welcoming attitude was worlds apart from what we see in the likes of Glenn Beck and Eric Bolling.   

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Is 2016 Behind Christie’s Immigration Flip?

Chris Christie has built his political career on his reputation as a straight shooter who never waffles, let alone flip-flops. But he’s set himself up for a barrage of abuse from some conservatives after his announcement during a gubernatorial debate earlier this week when he announced that he had changed his position on allowing illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition benefits at New Jersey public colleges. This is a clear departure from his past stands on this issue or on those involving any benefits for illegals. That pretty much guarantees that anti-immigration forces will be accusing him of being a second Mitt Romney should he jump into the 2016 presidential race. But, Christie who is clearly carving out a niche for himself in the center of his party on a variety of issues may not care.

Like his embrace of President Obama last fall in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s “evolution” on immigration is bound to infuriate many Republicans but it is also good politics in terms of his re-election. With a lead over his Democratic opponent that ranges from the mid- to the high 20’s, Christie has few worries in terms of his chances of getting a second term in Trenton. But the governor also understands that tilting more to the center on immigration probably suits his 2016 plans better than sticking to his previous position on the issue. Though the GOP roster of potential presidential candidates is crowded in terms of those competing for Tea Party and religious conservative voters, the field is wide open in terms of so-called moderates. Moreover, given the rapid growth in the number of Hispanic voters, he may also calculate that distancing himself from the anti-immigrant tone that has infected much of conservative discourse on the issue is exactly what he needs to solidify his image as the most electable Republican in terms of a general election.

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Chris Christie has built his political career on his reputation as a straight shooter who never waffles, let alone flip-flops. But he’s set himself up for a barrage of abuse from some conservatives after his announcement during a gubernatorial debate earlier this week when he announced that he had changed his position on allowing illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition benefits at New Jersey public colleges. This is a clear departure from his past stands on this issue or on those involving any benefits for illegals. That pretty much guarantees that anti-immigration forces will be accusing him of being a second Mitt Romney should he jump into the 2016 presidential race. But, Christie who is clearly carving out a niche for himself in the center of his party on a variety of issues may not care.

Like his embrace of President Obama last fall in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie’s “evolution” on immigration is bound to infuriate many Republicans but it is also good politics in terms of his re-election. With a lead over his Democratic opponent that ranges from the mid- to the high 20’s, Christie has few worries in terms of his chances of getting a second term in Trenton. But the governor also understands that tilting more to the center on immigration probably suits his 2016 plans better than sticking to his previous position on the issue. Though the GOP roster of potential presidential candidates is crowded in terms of those competing for Tea Party and religious conservative voters, the field is wide open in terms of so-called moderates. Moreover, given the rapid growth in the number of Hispanic voters, he may also calculate that distancing himself from the anti-immigrant tone that has infected much of conservative discourse on the issue is exactly what he needs to solidify his image as the most electable Republican in terms of a general election.

Christie’s excuse for his switch on the issue is economic. As Fox News reports, he gave the following rationale for his stand:

“What I always have said is that when economic times got better, that that would be one of the things that I would consider,” Christie said during the debate at Montclair State University, where he faced his opponent, Democrat Barbara Buono, who long has been an emphatic supporter of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. “It’s time now — given that economic times are getting better and the state budget revenues are going up.”

But this disclaimer doesn’t quite walk back a lot of his previous rhetoric on the question of the treatment of illegal immigrants.

In 2011, Christie took issue with a comment by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican who, during the GOP primaries for the presidential election, said those who opposed giving undocumented immigrants some help to afford college were “heartless.”

Shortly after, Christie said at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: “I want every child who comes to New Jersey to be educated, but I don’t believe that for those people who came here illegally, we should be subsidizing with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition their education.”

He added: “And let me be very clear from my perspective: That is not a heartless position, that is a common sense position.”

Nor did he shy away from directly taking on the question of how this would apply in New Jersey, a state with a large Hispanic community as well as what is estimated to be one of the largest populations of illegals.

In an [2011] appearance in New Jersey, Christie addressed the issue and raised the state’s fiscal problems, but he also noted that he opposed to giving breaks to people who break immigration laws.

“I can’t favor that, because we need to have an immigration system where people follow the rules,” Christie said at the time, “and I can’t in a difficult time of budget constraints support the idea that we should be giving money in that regard to people who haven’t followed the rules, and take that money from people who have.”

This is consistent with his economic rationale as well as helping highlight his claim that New Jersey has prospered under his administration. But it is a clear departure from a stance in which he claimed that all immigrants must play by the same rules.

Nevertheless, Christie is hardly alone in his party when it comes to realizing that integrating illegals into the economy and society makes a lot more sense than pretending they can all be deported or putting up with a status quo in which they remain in the shadows outside of the mainstream economy. Legislation like the DREAM Act has become a litmus test for Hispanic voters. Moreover, given the increasingly strident tone of anti-immigration activists that may well taint the GOP for a generation, having party leaders like Christie start to move away from positions that can be identified with hostility to immigrants makes good political sense as well as good policy.

That still leaves Christie vulnerable to attacks from conservative rivals who will claim he has flipped on the position for political reasons rather than principle. The betting here is that he will handle it better than Romney simply because his abrasive personality and blunt approach to politics will enable him to represent the switch as a matter of common sense and will refrain from the apologetics and rhetorical twists and turns that undermined Romney’s ability to explain his positions.

But no matter how successful he is in selling this point, there seems little doubt that his decision to change his coat on immigration is one more sign that he has 2016 on his mind.

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Mexico’s Immigration Hypocrisy

Late last month, a train derailed in southern Mexico killing at least five passengers. The train is part of a line that often serves to bring Central American migrants north into Mexico. While the United States has trouble defending—or simply chooses not to defend—its southern border against illegal immigrants, it is not the only country into which illegal immigrants flow. The irony is, however, that while the Mexican government has long chided the United States for supposed illiberalism toward illegal migrants, the Mexican government itself imposes a no-nonsense crackdown on those illegally in Mexico.

Central American complaints about treatment in Mexico have a long history. Beginning in 1974, the Mexican penalty for illegal entry into Mexico was up to two years in prison, and Mexican authorities did not hesitate to impose it. Repeat offenders could be slapped with a ten-year prison sentence. While Mexico’s 2011 Migration Law issued some basic protections, the Mexican government’s attitude toward its own illegal migrant population remains draconian compared to that of the United States.

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Late last month, a train derailed in southern Mexico killing at least five passengers. The train is part of a line that often serves to bring Central American migrants north into Mexico. While the United States has trouble defending—or simply chooses not to defend—its southern border against illegal immigrants, it is not the only country into which illegal immigrants flow. The irony is, however, that while the Mexican government has long chided the United States for supposed illiberalism toward illegal migrants, the Mexican government itself imposes a no-nonsense crackdown on those illegally in Mexico.

Central American complaints about treatment in Mexico have a long history. Beginning in 1974, the Mexican penalty for illegal entry into Mexico was up to two years in prison, and Mexican authorities did not hesitate to impose it. Repeat offenders could be slapped with a ten-year prison sentence. While Mexico’s 2011 Migration Law issued some basic protections, the Mexican government’s attitude toward its own illegal migrant population remains draconian compared to that of the United States.

It’s all well and good to talk about immigration reform: I’m all for expanding legal immigration for those who add positively to the American economy—there’s no reason why we can’t seek strategic advantage from immigration and take advantage of other countries’ brain drains—though it seems nonsensical to accommodate illegal immigration, and cases like this seem truly bizarre. It is even more bizarre to take counsel to liberalize immigration policies from a country which believes its own national interest is to do the opposite.

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The Tea Party and Town Halls

Readers of today’s New York Times feature on the decline of congressional recess town hall meetings would gain much by going back about a year to the divergence of the Tea Party model and the Occupy Wall Street model of political participation. After May Day 2012, Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson broke from his self-described objectivity in covering the pseudoanarchist Occupy movement. Though he said he considered himself a reporter and not a pundit, he believed Occupy–which he greatly admired–was in desperate need of his advice. Hineni, came the response: Harkinson would tell Occupy how to succeed.

It’s unclear whether and how much Occupy was taking notes on Harkinson’s pronouncements, but the article was a telling example of a question that had dogged Occupy from the beginning: Could it be anything more than the vocalization of misdirected anger? The answer seemed to be a resounding no. But the heart of the question was really about a comparison with the Tea Party, which had channeled its outrage into constructive participation in the democratic process–something Occupy never did. Here is how Harkinson described the conundrum:

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Readers of today’s New York Times feature on the decline of congressional recess town hall meetings would gain much by going back about a year to the divergence of the Tea Party model and the Occupy Wall Street model of political participation. After May Day 2012, Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson broke from his self-described objectivity in covering the pseudoanarchist Occupy movement. Though he said he considered himself a reporter and not a pundit, he believed Occupy–which he greatly admired–was in desperate need of his advice. Hineni, came the response: Harkinson would tell Occupy how to succeed.

It’s unclear whether and how much Occupy was taking notes on Harkinson’s pronouncements, but the article was a telling example of a question that had dogged Occupy from the beginning: Could it be anything more than the vocalization of misdirected anger? The answer seemed to be a resounding no. But the heart of the question was really about a comparison with the Tea Party, which had channeled its outrage into constructive participation in the democratic process–something Occupy never did. Here is how Harkinson described the conundrum:

Though Occupy could support many sympathetic candidates in Democratic primaries, some pundits haven’t pushed the idea because they worry about a tea party effect on the left, with liberal Democrats losing to Republicans in the general election. Yet other than a third-party bid, with its potential for another Nader debacle, this may be the only way to command Washington’s attention.

There were always concerns within Occupy of being co-opted by the national Democratic Party, or of being suppressed by it in elections. Those same concerns were present for the Tea Party–some Tea Party candidates lost otherwise-winnable seats, others rocketed to conservative stardom after dispatching “establishment” candidates in primary contests and winning Senate and House seats.

But what Harkinson seemed to understand was that grassroots political movements don’t hang around and tread water; they sink or swim. The Tea Party and Occupy would not be permanent fixtures on the American political landscape if they never evolved beyond protest crowds. Occupy may not have wanted to “go legitimate,” so to speak (though they might say “go corporate”), but the only other option was to fade. And fade they did. Meanwhile, the Tea Party went to Washington.

Neither movement has nearly the grassroots excitement or momentum it once had, but for very different reasons. Occupy never evolved into anything concrete. The Tea Party became a major force in American politics. So when the Times reports on the relative lack of bustling town halls, the fact that Tea Partiers are no longer only on the outside of Congress looking in, and thus in need of ways to get Congress’s attention, has much to do with it.

There are other reasons as well. Conservative activists wondering where their representatives are have a point when they say some elected Republicans don’t want to face the crowds. It is a testament to the Tea Party’s effectiveness and the grassroots influence within the party that some Republicans fear any confrontation with energized and organized factions no longer consigned to the sidelines. It is also the case that on some key issues, the conservative base has already won the battle over public opinion. They and their representatives are generally on the same side when it comes to ObamaCare, which was the subject of many a town hall in the lead-up to its enactment. It’s true that there is an intramural disagreement over shutting down the government without an agreement to defund ObamaCare, but that is not the same as debating the passage of the bill itself.

The other major issue subject to town halls in recent years has been immigration. The Times story makes note of this, but with one understated twist:

Immigration groups, like Alliance for Citizenship, which supports a plan like the Senate’s that would grant citizenship to the 11 million people here illegally, are almost exclusively targeting House Republicans, who now hold the key to passing any immigration overhaul legislation. The Democratic-controlled Senate has already approved one. One of the alliance’s targets this month has been Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who has not announced any town halls but did participate in them in 2009.

Those pining for town halls on immigration are pro-immigration interest groups. They want to pressure Republicans to adopt, not oppose, immigration reform with a path to citizenship. It is only natural that the groups in support of legislation will usually be less impressive or vocal than those against. And in this instance, that’s better for Republicans than when it was the other way around in 2006.

Leading up to that year’s midterm elections Republicans held anti-immigration meetings, and the results–a dramatic drop in the GOP share of the Hispanic vote–may be nudging Republicans away from holding public meetings on immigration at all if they can help it. They could very well be reticent to open the floodgates by calling any town hall to discuss immigration, especially in deep-red districts.

Whether voters support or oppose a specific piece of immigration legislation, surely many of them understand how off-putting anti-immigration rallies can be. It’s one thing to angrily protest a bill like ObamaCare or tax cuts; but to fulminate in large public gatherings denouncing immigrants is much more personally offensive to those on the receiving end because of basic issues of identity. Republicans are wise to avoid such a spectacle. More generally, conservatives should understand that their success is a major factor in the decline of the town halls.

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Luke Russert, Journalist and Advocate

A new survey by the Pew Forum shows that Americans continue to hold the military in high regard, with more than three-quarters of U.S. adults (78 percent) saying that members of the armed services contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being.

At the same time, compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem. The share of the public saying that journalists contribute a lot to society is down 10 percentage points, from 38 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2013. The drop is particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points). The decline in the perceived contribution of journalists cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents as well as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents all are less likely to say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being today (down 8 points among Republicans/leaning Republicans and 10 points among Democrats/leaning Democrats).

I believe the public’s views toward both institutions–the military and the media–are warranted. And I suspect that public esteem for the press will continue to drop if there are more episodes like this one (h/t National Review Online) from NBC’s Capitol Hill correspondent Luke Russert.

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A new survey by the Pew Forum shows that Americans continue to hold the military in high regard, with more than three-quarters of U.S. adults (78 percent) saying that members of the armed services contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being.

At the same time, compared with the ratings four years ago, journalists have dropped the most in public esteem. The share of the public saying that journalists contribute a lot to society is down 10 percentage points, from 38 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2013. The drop is particularly pronounced among women (down 17 points). The decline in the perceived contribution of journalists cuts across partisan leanings, age and education level. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents as well as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents all are less likely to say journalists contribute a lot to society’s well-being today (down 8 points among Republicans/leaning Republicans and 10 points among Democrats/leaning Democrats).

I believe the public’s views toward both institutions–the military and the media–are warranted. And I suspect that public esteem for the press will continue to drop if there are more episodes like this one (h/t National Review Online) from NBC’s Capitol Hill correspondent Luke Russert.

Mr. Russert’s question was delivered in the form of commentary that was both tendentious and arrogant. For example, Russert decided to establish a premise before his question, telling Boehner, “it’s well known you guys got your rear ends handed to you in the Latino community in the 2012 election.” He made opposition to a pathway to citizenship seem unreasonable, saying, “Do you not risk putting Republicans at a disadvantage with the fastest-growing electoral voting group for another generation?” And as Boehner was attempting to move on after answering the question, Russert continued to press ahead, wondering if the GOP “brand” would be hurt with Hispanics and make it impossible to win future national elections with a party comprised of “all white folks.” It’s not simply what Russert said; it’s also the tone with which he said it. I say all this as someone who is actually somewhat sympathetic to the view being advocated by Russert.

(What Russert said was also ignorant, referring to Marco Rubio as the “presumptive 2016 nominee” for the Republican Party. Senator Rubio may or may not run for president, and he may or may not win. But it’s silly to state that he’s the “presumptive” nominee at this stage.)

Speaker Boehner responded to Russert’s questions by stating, “I didn’t know this was an opinion show.” But increasingly these days to be a journalist means to be an advocate. Why else do so many journalists get into the profession in the first place, if not to advance an ideology and a political agenda without having to go through the hassle of winning elections?

There’s certainly a place for opinion shows in journalism, but Russert is supposed to be a correspondent, not a person advocating a particular point of view. Yet increasingly that distinction is lost on journalists and young progressives like Luke Russert. His profession is suffering, and should suffer, as a result.

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Phyllis Schlafly and the Road to GOP Ruin

In a radio interview, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican.”

She added, “The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney and they give us people who don’t connect with the grassroots.”

Let’s deal with first things first: The notion that there’s “not the slightest bit of evidence” that Hispanics are going to vote Republican is quite wrong. George W. Bush won roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. As for the “series of losers” the “establishment-run nomination system” produced: Perhaps Schlafly believes the path to a GOP victory in 2012 would have been paved by GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. If so, she’s living on another planet. Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination because he won more Republican voters in more primary states than any of his competitors did.

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In a radio interview, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said, “The Hispanics who come in like this are going to vote Democrat. And there is not the slightest bit of evidence that they are going to vote Republican.”

She added, “The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes — the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election. And there are millions of them. And I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they’ve given us with Dole, and McCain, and Romney and they give us people who don’t connect with the grassroots.”

Let’s deal with first things first: The notion that there’s “not the slightest bit of evidence” that Hispanics are going to vote Republican is quite wrong. George W. Bush won roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. As for the “series of losers” the “establishment-run nomination system” produced: Perhaps Schlafly believes the path to a GOP victory in 2012 would have been paved by GOP presidential nominee Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. If so, she’s living on another planet. Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination because he won more Republican voters in more primary states than any of his competitors did.

But Ms. Schlafly’s comments provide a good opportunity to call attention to recent remarks by Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute. Among the points made by Olsen:

  • The election was clearly decided by the non-white vote for the first time in American history. Seventy-two percent of the electorate in the 2012 election was white, according to the exit poll. That bloc includes people of many different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. But while there’s no monolithic white vote any more than there is a monolithic non-white vote, the racial differences are still stark.
  • Mitt Romney carried the white vote 59 percent to 39 percent, a 20 point lead. No candidate in American history had ever carried 59 percent of the white vote and lost the presidency. Governor Romney lost, by four points. He lost by four points because he lost the non-white vote by 63 points. (Among Hispanics, Romney lost 71 percent v. 27 percent.)
  • In every election since the 1996 election, like clockwork, the share of the non-white vote has gone up as a share of the total voters by 2 percent and the share of the white vote has gone down by 2 percent, much of that stemming from Hispanic population increases.
  • In 2016, if there is not a dramatic shrinkage in the African-American vote, a Republican candidate will need to get 60 percent of the white vote, plus a record high among African-Americans, plus a record high among Asians, plus a record high among Hispanics, plus a record high among those people who don’t classify themselves in any of those categories, or are American-Indian or Hawaiian or Aleut, to win a bare 50.1 percent of the vote.

Now these data points by themselves don’t mean Republicans should support the immigration reform legislation that is being crafted in the Senate. That legislation needs to be judged on its substantive merits. It’s also true that Mitt Romney did not appeal to white working class and blue-collar voters in anything like the numbers he needed to in order to win. But of course one can do both: appeal to rising immigrant groups and white working class voters. It’s not an either/or proposition.

In addition, the data points cited by Olsen do indicate that the strategy Ms. Schlafly is recommending–which is that Republicans should give up on Hispanic voters, who will never vote for Republicans anyway, and simply reach out to white voters–is a path to permanent political minority status. Republican presidential candidates are already doing fantastically well with white voters. The problem for the GOP is that they are a shrinking percentage of the electorate (from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012).

As for the Schlafly mindset, Michael Gerson and I addressed it in our recent essay in COMMENTARY, when we wrote this:

Conservative critics of such [immigration] reforms sometimes express the conviction that Hispanic voters are inherently favorable to bigger government and thus more or less permanently immune to Republican appeals. It is a view that combines an off-putting sense of ideological superiority—apparently “those people” are not persuadable—with a pessimism about the drawing power of conservative ideals. Such attitudes are the prerogative of a sectarian faction. They are not an option for a political party, which cannot afford to lose the ambition to convince.

Phyllis Schlafly has lost the ambition to convince, which is just one reason why her counsel should be ignored. 

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Immigration Reform Proponents Try to Turn the Tide

Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform are looking to end the week with a bit more momentum in their favor than they began the week with. As I wrote on Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation study calling attention to the entitlement costs of immigration reform not only earned strong criticism from trusted Republican budget hawks, but also was unlikely to catch and keep the attention of partisans on both sides. Given the revelation that one of the study’s co-authors once wrote a racially charged thesis paper on the subject, it seems the “gang of eight” dodged that critique.

Additionally, the bipartisan group of senators trying to shepherd the legislation through the Senate may have avoided another common pitfall–one that sunk the 2007 reform legislation. At that time, then-Senator Obama went back on an agreement to oppose any “poison pill” amendments that would kill the bill, regardless of the merits of the amendments themselves. He cast a crucial vote in favor of just such an amendment, sinking the bill. But as the Hill reports, the gang of eight seems to have navigated the Judiciary Committee amendment process and come out intact:

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Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform are looking to end the week with a bit more momentum in their favor than they began the week with. As I wrote on Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation study calling attention to the entitlement costs of immigration reform not only earned strong criticism from trusted Republican budget hawks, but also was unlikely to catch and keep the attention of partisans on both sides. Given the revelation that one of the study’s co-authors once wrote a racially charged thesis paper on the subject, it seems the “gang of eight” dodged that critique.

Additionally, the bipartisan group of senators trying to shepherd the legislation through the Senate may have avoided another common pitfall–one that sunk the 2007 reform legislation. At that time, then-Senator Obama went back on an agreement to oppose any “poison pill” amendments that would kill the bill, regardless of the merits of the amendments themselves. He cast a crucial vote in favor of just such an amendment, sinking the bill. But as the Hill reports, the gang of eight seems to have navigated the Judiciary Committee amendment process and come out intact:

The Senate’s Gang of Eight fended off a slew of poison-pill amendments aimed at the immigration reform bill, building momentum for the legislation that has sparked strong opposition from conservatives.

Members of the gang touted the passage of a group of GOP-sponsored amendments they said had strengthened the bill and would help address the concerns of conservatives.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted down GOP-sponsored amendments to delay putting 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship and to dramatically increase the number of Border Patrol agents and surveillance vehicles.

The bill’s sponsors also dodged an effort from the left by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to halt Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano from deporting illegal immigrants to unsafe areas.

Whether any of these will constitute something of a pyrrhic victory remains to be seen. As the Hill notes, for example, the group fended off an attempt to make border security requirements even stricter. That is where the reform effort is most vulnerable–a fact that is unlikely to change as the bill progresses.

Additionally, a new Pew Research poll shows both the necessity and complexity of reforming the country’s immigration system, as the public sees it. Three-quarters of respondents said the system needs reform, with 35 percent in support of it being “completely rebuilt.” More Republicans than Democrats registered support for major changes to the immigration system, but both were above 70 percent. Pew asked this question of other policy areas as well: taxes, education, health care, Medicare, Social Security, and homeland security. None matched the public’s enthusiasm for major changes on immigration.

But aside from improving border security, respondents couldn’t agree much on what those major changes should consist of:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted May 1-5 among 1,504 adults, finds that 73% say there should be a way for illegal immigrants already in the United States who meet certain requirements to stay here. But fewer than half (44%) favor allowing those here illegally to apply for U.S. citizenship, while 25% think permanent legal status is more appropriate….

When it comes to legal immigration, relatively few (31%) see current levels as satisfactory, but there is no consensus as to whether the level of legal immigration should be decreased (36%) or increased (25%)

The opposition to increased legal immigration is troubling here, but there are two reasons it might not be so harmful to reform efforts. First, on the issue of, in Pew’s wording, “Immigrants currently in the country illegally who meet certain requirements,” 73 percent of respondents said they should have “a way to stay legally”–either a path to full citizenship or at least permanent legal residency, though citizenship was the more popular answer by far. That there is such wide opposition to attempts to deport even those who came here illegally removes what might otherwise have been a significant obstacle to finding a consensus on immigration reform.

Second, the poll comes in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, which raised questions about border security, background checks, and whether the country was less able to integrate and assimilate immigrants than in the past. Though Rand Paul was misguided in questioning whether a Chechen family should be able to immigrate to America, he was no doubt not the only one beset by worry about the ease with which poisonous ideologies can cross borders in a globalized world. But as I wrote at the time, those seeking escape from war-torn, poorly or oppressively governed regions of the world are a fair representation of the American immigrant through history.

The poll also comes as the sluggish economy drags on and high unemployment and underemployment persist, heightening wage and job protectionism in the U.S. That sentiment will probably be as stubborn as the conditions that inspire it. Immigration reform proponents can argue (justifiably) that economic growth will follow immigration, but they will be met with the irony that many Americans want to see economic growth before they’re willing to back more immigration. The gang of eight may have more control over border security than job security, but both promise to be headaches for immigration reformers going forward.

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Does the Chechen Connection Matter?

Does the Chechen background of the accused Boston Marathon bombers have any practical relevance to American foreign or domestic policy in the wake of the attacks? The attempts to answer that question have produced a wave of stories over the past week. It is natural–and rational–to want to understand the motive behind an act of violence such as this. Motive, second only to means, is knowledge that usually has practical implications: if we know why the perpetrators did what they did, perhaps we can stop this from happening again. Unfortunately, in this case, Chechnya and the wider Caucasus conflict are unlikely to provide much direction.

As Jonathan noted on Friday, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are using the Boston bombing to call attention to the dangers of amnesty. But today Rand Paul entered the fray by asking why Chechens were able to immigrate at all. In a letter to Harry Reid, Paul writes: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”

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Does the Chechen background of the accused Boston Marathon bombers have any practical relevance to American foreign or domestic policy in the wake of the attacks? The attempts to answer that question have produced a wave of stories over the past week. It is natural–and rational–to want to understand the motive behind an act of violence such as this. Motive, second only to means, is knowledge that usually has practical implications: if we know why the perpetrators did what they did, perhaps we can stop this from happening again. Unfortunately, in this case, Chechnya and the wider Caucasus conflict are unlikely to provide much direction.

As Jonathan noted on Friday, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are using the Boston bombing to call attention to the dangers of amnesty. But today Rand Paul entered the fray by asking why Chechens were able to immigrate at all. In a letter to Harry Reid, Paul writes: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”

I think it’s safe to say no immigration reform proposal–and certainly no such proposal that could pass Congress–would seek to prohibit residents of Chechnya by definition from resettling in the United States, and for good reason. Additionally, the Tsarnaev boys came here as youth, so it’s highly unlikely they raised, or should have raised, any red flags.

But Paul did touch on another element of the Caucasus: it is the home of an influential recruiting, training, and communications center for a major jihadist group, the Caucasus Emirate. But the Emirate denied responsibility for the Boston attacks: “The Command of the Province of Dagestan indicates in this regard that the Caucasian Mujahideen are not fighting against the United States of America. We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims,” it stated.

That statement was carefully calibrated and is a fairly accurate portrait of where you might find Chechen or Dagestani Islamist terrorists–and where you probably won’t. Boston falls into the latter category. The Caucasus Emirate, led by Doku Umarov, has no compunction about employing brutal methods in its struggle, but the Emirate is not at war with the United States. That doesn’t mean Americans will never be the target of Chechen attacks; terrorists from the Caucasus have shown up outside Russian territory, but there doesn’t seem to have been any major Chechen presence in Afghanistan, and there is considerable doubt as to whether there has been any Chechen presence fighting the allies in Afghanistan at all.

The Syrian civil war is a more likely place to spot a Chechen militant, and indeed the Caucasus Emirate apparently admitted to the death of Rustam Gelayev in Syria in August. Gelayev was the son of Ruslan Gelayev, a Chechen commander killed in the Caucasus in 2004. Though the Emirate won’t expend serious time, energy, manpower, or money fighting so far from home, fighting in Syria does give them the ability to hit the hated Putin regime from another angle.

Will the Tsarnaevs’ Chechen connection lead to more anti-terror cooperation between the U.S. and Russia? Unlikely. Just as the Emirate tends to carry out operations of which it will brag, rather than deny, so the Russian authorities like to pretend the Caucasus Islamists don’t exist in order to minimize the perception of danger and to sell the line that Putin has pacified the conflict and brought true stability to Russia. Whatever cooperation between the U.S. and Russia was already taking place probably won’t be affected much one way or the other by the Boston bombing, especially with the impending American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

What about the area of diplomacy? Here some, including Amy Knight of the New York Review of Books, are concerned. As Knight phrases it:

Will the US government now turn a blind eye to Russia’s increasingly brutal crackdown on its own democratic opposition because of overriding concerns about national security, just as it did after 9/11? Will the Kremlin wager that it can get away with its hard-line approach now that, as a result of the Boston attacks, the Obama Administration needs its help in counter-terrorism efforts?

This is an interesting question for the president of the United States in the parallel universe from which Knight apparently filed her story, in which the Obama administration has not already ignored Putin’s crackdown on protesters and other human rights abuses in order to obtain some mythical national security cooperation. But as anyone who has followed the administration’s failed “reset” efforts knows, for the Obama administration to stop caring about Russian human rights abuses, it would have to start caring about those abuses in the first place.

If the Tsarnaev brothers were radicalized, that appears to have taken place here in the U.S. The Tsarnaevs’ background in the Caucasus is interesting biographical material, but it does not seem poised to provide many answers, nor nudge American policy, foreign or domestic, in a new direction.

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Rubio Welcomes the Immigration Challenge

Two stories illustrated yesterday the (sometimes willful) confusion about where Marco Rubio stands on immigration reform. Hot Air discusses a Media Research Center video taken at a pro-immigration rally in Washington. The MRC’s correspondent noticed that some of the signs held by protesters were directed at Rubio. One said “Mr. Rubio your parents are immigrants,” and the woman holding the sign admitted she did not know, when pressed, who Marco Rubio actually was. The same was true of a woman standing next to her whose sign read “Rubio the time is now.” She told the MRC, “Look, my social worker gave it to us.”

Some of those at the rally were schoolchildren who were given anti-Rubio signs by their teachers. Very few knew who Rubio even was; those who did know him didn’t know much about Rubio’s stance on immigration. (This may have something to do with the fact that, as I wrote about here, liberal “pro-immigration” groups have been calling voters and misinforming them about Rubio’s support for immigration.) The other story was that those who oppose Rubio’s immigration reform plans seized on a story that cast doubt about the enforcement provisions in the compromise that is taking shape. Rubio’s staff, then, has spent the week trying to answer a recurring question: What does Marco Rubio want?

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Two stories illustrated yesterday the (sometimes willful) confusion about where Marco Rubio stands on immigration reform. Hot Air discusses a Media Research Center video taken at a pro-immigration rally in Washington. The MRC’s correspondent noticed that some of the signs held by protesters were directed at Rubio. One said “Mr. Rubio your parents are immigrants,” and the woman holding the sign admitted she did not know, when pressed, who Marco Rubio actually was. The same was true of a woman standing next to her whose sign read “Rubio the time is now.” She told the MRC, “Look, my social worker gave it to us.”

Some of those at the rally were schoolchildren who were given anti-Rubio signs by their teachers. Very few knew who Rubio even was; those who did know him didn’t know much about Rubio’s stance on immigration. (This may have something to do with the fact that, as I wrote about here, liberal “pro-immigration” groups have been calling voters and misinforming them about Rubio’s support for immigration.) The other story was that those who oppose Rubio’s immigration reform plans seized on a story that cast doubt about the enforcement provisions in the compromise that is taking shape. Rubio’s staff, then, has spent the week trying to answer a recurring question: What does Marco Rubio want?

Virtually every move of Rubio’s on the issue has been subject to conflicting interpretations. Depending on which side you hear, the public hearing process Rubio wants to hold on immigration reform is either a ruse to lull Rubio’s critics into a false sense of security or a delaying tactic enabling him to passively sideline the legislation. It has become the worst of both worlds for Rubio, with the left attacking him for advancing their cause and the right suspecting him of selling them down the river.

But as a thorough piece in Politico today explains, it cannot be plausibly argued that Rubio wants immigration reform to fail. He has tied his own political fate, it seems, to that of immigration reform:

Marco Rubio is preparing to go all in to support sweeping immigration legislation, offering himself up as the public face of a bill that will split the Republican Party — but that his allies hope will propel him to the front of the GOP presidential sweepstakes.

After offering lukewarm support until now, Rubio is preparing to fully embrace a measure that is the most significant of his political career so far. The gambit could pay off in spades by crowning a leading presidential contender in 2016, or it could permanently damage the Republican’s brand with conservatives.

Rubio wants a comprehensive bill, despite the pleas from some Republicans to work the process in stages. (Such a process would almost certainly result in the thorniest immigration issue–what to do with the 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country–left unaddressed.) Rubio, according to the story, wants the illegal immigrants currently in the country to be permitted to apply for citizenship after 13 years and when the border enforcement mechanisms have been established.

Rubio plans to unveil the text of the bill early next week, and at least one major committee hearing will be held on it before Judiciary Committee voting begins in about a month. To assuage concerns that the bill could get jammed through Congress without sufficient conservative input and feedback, Rubio will probably hold separate public meetings on the bill, which he hopes will include immigration experts.

That may not be enough to satisfy skeptics, and in fact it presents its own risks to the bill (which is likely why his committee colleagues won’t agree to official extensive public hearings themselves). Rubio is grappling in many ways with the ghost of ObamaCare. Public hearings and town halls were held on the president’s proposed health care reform and they allowed the public to register voters’ overwhelming opposition to the bill. The result was a disaster: the terrible legislation was shoved through over the opposition of the public via procedural tricks and unseemly trade-offs like the “Cornhusker Kickback” and the bill’s supporters were washed out of Congress in a wave of public outrage.

The immigration hearings have another precedent as well, and it’s not much more encouraging: the town halls held by Republicans opposed to the immigration reform spearheaded by George W. Bush and John McCain that was eventually spiked in 2007. As the AP reported in February, it’s not going much better for McCain this time around.

The public hearings are going to test Rubio’s powers of persuasion, but the whole process will also gauge whether the perceived shift in the GOP stance on immigration, led by the party’s next generation, has been pronounced enough to not only get a comprehensive bill passed but do so with the support, even if grudging, of the grassroots. Rubio is almost surely hoping to find out the answer to the latter before the 2016 GOP primary process renders its own verdict.

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Newest Obstacle for Immigration Reformers: Their Supporters?

There is no greater obstacle to achieving comprehensive immigration reform than the perverse system of incentives created by its absence. We have written at length here about pro-immigration reform Republicans’ concern that President Obama would torpedo negotiations, and that this concern arose from the fact that Obama has twice now done precisely that, either singlehandedly or close to it.

In 2007, Obama did this by joining the immigration reform inner circle in the Senate and then supporting a poison-pill amendment to tank the negotiations, frustrating even his Democratic allies like Ted Kennedy. In 2012, Obama used an executive action that stopped Marco Rubio’s bipartisan reform proposal in its tracks. In both cases, Obama had reason to do so: in 2007, he wanted to prevent Republicans from getting a policy win on an issue he needed for the 2008 general election, and in 2012 he again used immigration as a cudgel against the GOP in his re-election campaign. And while Obama no longer needs the issue on the table for his own electoral purposes, he may want it to linger unresolved long enough to hurt Republicans in the 2014 midterms.

There is, however, an additional obstacle on the side claiming to support reform that has generally been able to fly under the radar. Marc Caputo writes at the Miami Herald:

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There is no greater obstacle to achieving comprehensive immigration reform than the perverse system of incentives created by its absence. We have written at length here about pro-immigration reform Republicans’ concern that President Obama would torpedo negotiations, and that this concern arose from the fact that Obama has twice now done precisely that, either singlehandedly or close to it.

In 2007, Obama did this by joining the immigration reform inner circle in the Senate and then supporting a poison-pill amendment to tank the negotiations, frustrating even his Democratic allies like Ted Kennedy. In 2012, Obama used an executive action that stopped Marco Rubio’s bipartisan reform proposal in its tracks. In both cases, Obama had reason to do so: in 2007, he wanted to prevent Republicans from getting a policy win on an issue he needed for the 2008 general election, and in 2012 he again used immigration as a cudgel against the GOP in his re-election campaign. And while Obama no longer needs the issue on the table for his own electoral purposes, he may want it to linger unresolved long enough to hurt Republicans in the 2014 midterms.

There is, however, an additional obstacle on the side claiming to support reform that has generally been able to fly under the radar. Marc Caputo writes at the Miami Herald:

The request from the liberal Campaign to Reform Immigration for America was simple — but strange.

“Ask Marco Rubio to support a pathway to citizenship,” a caller from the group said.

Huh?

“Marco Rubio already supports a pathway to citizenship,” I said when I answered my home phone Wednesday. “I don’t understand.”

“He doesn’t support a pathway to citizenship,” the caller shot back.

Me: “Umm, yes he does.”

Caller: “No. He only supports a system of temporary work permits…”

Me: “I really think you have your facts wrong. Where are you getting them?”

The caller hung up.

Caputo asked the organization’s spokesman why his liberal callers were doing something so bizarre as to claim to support a policy, then identify conservatives who also support their efforts, then call voters and accuse those conservatives of being on the other side. The spokesman said the caller went “off script” and would be “retrained.”

But Caputo already knew the real answer: “If immigration reform dies, then activist groups on all sides of the political spectrum live to fight again.”

It’s one thing to be a liberal interest group and maniacally send fundraising scare-letters every time a Republican’s actions can be twisted into the prevailing liberal conspiracy theory du jour. The issues change by the day, but there’s always something for the MoveOns of the world to grouse about. But what about the liberal groups devoted to one single issue? It turns out, they have a lot to lose by winning.

For the Democratic politicians who actually want to pass immigration reform, however, this behavior only works against them. For those wondering how to tell the difference between a pro-immigration Democrat and a Democrat who, like the president and Caputo’s activist caller, may not actually want reform to succeed, the answer is hinted at in a Washington Post piece this afternoon on the subject:

Senate Democrats should hope that Rubio sticks with the group, because the party needs more than a few Republicans to sign onto immigration reform in the upper chamber for the legislation to have any hope of passing in the GOP-controlled House.

“We don’t want this bill to be, you know, 53 Democrats and just a handful of Republicans because we need broad bipartisan support, particularly to get a bill done in the House,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on CBS News’s “Face The Nation.” Schumer is part of the “Gang of Eight.”

If you want to know what kind of immigration reform can pass both houses of Congress and garner enough support on the right while still achieving the goals of the reform process, Rubio is the one to watch. So how Rubio’s Democratic counterparts behave toward him will tell you who is serious about reform and who is looking for an ethnic-politics wedge issue.

Liberals who seek to confuse the public about where Rubio stands to portray the sides as farther apart than they are, such as the caller from the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America, are not serious about reform. And when the White House pushes back against Rubio’s importance to the process while giving the president credit for the progress, it’s a sign that maybe those callers from the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America should be directing public pressure not at Rubio, but at Obama.

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The American Media, Language, and Selective Humanity

On September 11 of last year, as the attacks on the American missions in Benghazi and Cairo developed, the New York Times led with a description of the fate of the American flag at the embassy in Cairo: violent Islamists took down the American flag and replaced it with a black flag “similar to Al Qaeda’s banner.” About three months later, the Times ran another story about the fate of an American flag, this one in Illinois: a voter upset about President Obama’s re-election flew his American flag upside down.

Aside from having the American flag at the center of the stories, the two pieces had another element in common: in both, the offenders–a disgruntled Republican voter and violent Salafist Islamists–shared a descriptor. The New York Times regarded both as “ultraconservative.” The Times makes no attempt to justify this latest attack on the English language: it never explains what makes someone “ultraconservative.” The paper is simply content with vague designations that hint at opprobrium and ensure the near-impossibility of learning anything from its stories. Two stories in the news this week brought this to mind.

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On September 11 of last year, as the attacks on the American missions in Benghazi and Cairo developed, the New York Times led with a description of the fate of the American flag at the embassy in Cairo: violent Islamists took down the American flag and replaced it with a black flag “similar to Al Qaeda’s banner.” About three months later, the Times ran another story about the fate of an American flag, this one in Illinois: a voter upset about President Obama’s re-election flew his American flag upside down.

Aside from having the American flag at the center of the stories, the two pieces had another element in common: in both, the offenders–a disgruntled Republican voter and violent Salafist Islamists–shared a descriptor. The New York Times regarded both as “ultraconservative.” The Times makes no attempt to justify this latest attack on the English language: it never explains what makes someone “ultraconservative.” The paper is simply content with vague designations that hint at opprobrium and ensure the near-impossibility of learning anything from its stories. Two stories in the news this week brought this to mind.

One was the Associated Press’s announcement that it would forbid the use of the term “illegal immigrants” to describe illegal immigrants. In fairness to the AP, it has also resisted the phenomenally stupid term “undocumented,” noting in its own explanation that such a person “may have plenty of documents,” and therefore the term means nothing in the context of an immigration story. But AP editors also explained that many people told them they don’t like the term illegal immigrants, so the AP is getting rid of the term. Though I think comprehensive immigration reform including a path to citizenship has long been a wise goal to pursue, perhaps passing immigration reform becomes even more urgent now before the media deletes the entire relevant vocabulary and any pertinent legislation must be written in pictograph.

The other story was, unsurprisingly, from the New York Times, which offered a correction for the ages when it apologetically noted that this story “mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.” Michael Walsh at NRO had some fun with the Times, wondering how, among the paper’s reporters and legion of editors, no one caught the fact that a dispatch datelined Vatican City incorrectly described Easter on Easter Sunday. He also asked how the phrase “resurrection into heaven” made it into the correction.

The manipulation of language in the American leftist press is about more than simple political correctness, of course. And in this light the AP’s change on “illegal immigrants” is pretty harmless. The language will adapt, whether or not it should have been forced to do so. But the scourge of moral relativism is a much larger aspect of the media’s assault on language. The Times’s description of everyone of every nationality and every religion who is not an East Coast secularist as “ultraconservative” is an example, but the more famous example is the media’s persistent refusal to use the word terrorist to describe terrorists. “Militant” has emerged as the go-to replacement, but a fairly pathetic one. And now “ultraconservative” may at times stand in for it, which is the same term the Times uses to identify those who voted against Obama. But since moral relativism is a feature and not a bug of Western liberalism, it’ll have to do.

There are other corrosive effects of the media’s language manipulation. Mark Steyn pointed out a perfect example a couple of weeks ago, involving both the AP and the Times. A Times story described babies born alive–which advanced civilization prefers to call “people”–as “viable fetuses” still eligible for abortion. But isn’t abortion something else? Yes, and Steyn found a helpful Associated Press story to explain that “Abortions are typically performed in utero.”

One would hope. Regardless of a person’s position on the availability of abortion, the press’s insistence on twisting itself in knots to avoid humanizing a human is not a sign of cultural health. Coincidentally, that is just the complaint that led to the eventual dismissal of the term “illegal immigrant.” In the ABC News report on the AP’s decision, we are told that “Fusion, the ABC-Univision joint venture, does not use ‘illegal immigrant’ because we believe it dehumanizes those it describes.” Fair enough, I suppose, but is it too much to ask for this concern over humanity to be applied across the board?

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On Big Government, the Conservative Message Gets Through

Although there has been some heated digital confrontation between conservatives in the post-election blame game and adjustment period, it should be noted that much of the right’s recalibration since November has been quite sensible. The GOP by and large has had it wrong on immigration in recent years, and paid dearly for it at the ballot box. The sudden willingness to work toward comprehensive immigration reform may in some cases be cynical, but it is also, at the very least, logical.

And President Obama’s reelection victory exposed party weaknesses outside legislative issues, such as poor candidate recruitment and messaging. So it’s not all that surprising that a group like the one led by Karl Rove has formed with the purpose of enabling the nomination of better candidates for certain races. This has, naturally, whetted the appetite of liberals for ever more “moderation” on the part of Republicans. E.J. Dionne’s column today in the Washington Post is a good example of this mindset. Dionne writes:

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Although there has been some heated digital confrontation between conservatives in the post-election blame game and adjustment period, it should be noted that much of the right’s recalibration since November has been quite sensible. The GOP by and large has had it wrong on immigration in recent years, and paid dearly for it at the ballot box. The sudden willingness to work toward comprehensive immigration reform may in some cases be cynical, but it is also, at the very least, logical.

And President Obama’s reelection victory exposed party weaknesses outside legislative issues, such as poor candidate recruitment and messaging. So it’s not all that surprising that a group like the one led by Karl Rove has formed with the purpose of enabling the nomination of better candidates for certain races. This has, naturally, whetted the appetite of liberals for ever more “moderation” on the part of Republicans. E.J. Dionne’s column today in the Washington Post is a good example of this mindset. Dionne writes:

But there’s a big difference between rebranding and pursuing a different approach to governing.

The good news is that some Republicans have decided that the party moved too far to the right and are backing off long-standing positions on tax increases, guns and immigration….

The mixed news: A lot of the rebranding efforts are superficial yet nonetheless reflect an awareness that the party has been asking the wrong questions, talking about the wrong issues and limiting the range of voters it’s been addressing….

The bad news: In some states where Republicans control all the levers of power, they are rushing ahead with astonishingly right-wing programs to eviscerate government while shifting the tax burden toward the middle class and the poor and away from the wealthy. In trying to build the Koch brothers’ dystopias, they are turning states in (sic) laboratories of reaction.

That is, from Dionne’s perspective, the good news is that some Republicans are voting like Democrats, the mixed news is that some Republicans are merely talking like Democrats, and the bad news is that some Republicans still refuse to do either, preferring instead to live in places where government works for the people–like Texas–instead of where government works against the people–like failing states such as California.

In fairness to Dionne, he’s not wrong that Republicans have changed their tune on some issues and their tone on others, nor is there reason for him not to applaud it. But Republicans agreed to raise taxes in the fiscal cliff negotiations because without a deal taxes would have gone up even more. Aside from increased support for background checks, there isn’t much change in anyone’s position on guns–pro-gun rights Democrats haven’t really moved left either, which is why an assault weapons ban is unlikely.

And Dionne’s frustration–and that of his liberal compatriots–with conservatives’ relentless criticism of the federal government as too intrusive, expensive, and unwieldy won’t be placated by the GOP anytime soon. That’s because of what Dionne’s Post colleague Aaron Blake reported last week: for the first time in at least a couple of decades, the Pew polling organization has found that a majority of Americans–53 percent–believe the government threatens their rights and freedoms.

Blake’s post puts this poll in the context of gun rights, which makes sense given the attention the issue was receiving when this poll was conducted. But there’s every indication that this is one messaging success for the right that has wider implications. Blake writes:

And if gun rights supporters can convince the public (and members of Congress) that the legislation creates a too-powerful federal government that impinges on people’s rights and freedoms, they may help reverse their early deficit in the polls.

The American public is very receptive to such a message.

True, but why presume the American public wouldn’t be “very receptive” to the message in other contexts? After all, it’s highly unlikely that the government’s behavior on any one issue drove this result–and in fact, as the poll breakdown makes clear, gun owners didn’t skew the results. The truth is, there is a bevy of Obama infringements on personal liberty to choose from, such as the one that Jonathan wrote about this afternoon: the controversial HHS mandate that has drawn the opposition of the Catholic Church. We can add in the Obamacare mandate to purchase insurance as well. Some might be upset with the administration’s heavy-handed approach to picking winners and losers in the private sector; burdensome regulation; desire to raise and keep raising taxes; or expansive executive authority on national security issues.

Or they could simply believe that this administration’s dedication to expanding the federal deficit is a threat to their economic wellbeing and that of future generations. This is a difficult question to answer, because there are just so many possibilities. When it comes to intruding on the freedoms of the American people, this administration has something for everyone.

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Why Congress Doesn’t Trust Obama on Immigration Reform

One of the reasons conservatives and pro-immigration reform politicians worried President Obama would do something to scuttle a bipartisan compromise on the issue is that it would follow a pattern Obama has set throughout his administration. The president has a habit of not participating in bipartisan negotiations and then harpooning them–or attempting to–from the outside. This was the case when Obama gave his much-derided rally during the fiscal cliff negotiations that seemed designed to kill the deal that was being formed at the 11th hour.

It was also exactly what Obama did with immigration reform last year, when Senator Marco Rubio stepped up to lead GOP efforts to find a compromise and the president preempted any possible deal with executive action. Yet as the Hill reminds us today, if Obama did something to derail immigration reform this time it would actually be the third time he worked assiduously and successfully to kill reform. The Hill notes the story of the ill-fated immigration reform negotiations of 2007. Obama, then a senator, asked to join the bipartisan negotiating group at its core, which agreed to oppose any amendment that could kill the bill even if they agreed with it to ensure the bill would move forward. Obama apparently ignored the negotiating sessions but always showed up for the press conferences, and then both supported and offered his own “poison pill” amendments, including the one that both parties credit with finishing off the reform effort for good:

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One of the reasons conservatives and pro-immigration reform politicians worried President Obama would do something to scuttle a bipartisan compromise on the issue is that it would follow a pattern Obama has set throughout his administration. The president has a habit of not participating in bipartisan negotiations and then harpooning them–or attempting to–from the outside. This was the case when Obama gave his much-derided rally during the fiscal cliff negotiations that seemed designed to kill the deal that was being formed at the 11th hour.

It was also exactly what Obama did with immigration reform last year, when Senator Marco Rubio stepped up to lead GOP efforts to find a compromise and the president preempted any possible deal with executive action. Yet as the Hill reminds us today, if Obama did something to derail immigration reform this time it would actually be the third time he worked assiduously and successfully to kill reform. The Hill notes the story of the ill-fated immigration reform negotiations of 2007. Obama, then a senator, asked to join the bipartisan negotiating group at its core, which agreed to oppose any amendment that could kill the bill even if they agreed with it to ensure the bill would move forward. Obama apparently ignored the negotiating sessions but always showed up for the press conferences, and then both supported and offered his own “poison pill” amendments, including the one that both parties credit with finishing off the reform effort for good:

Obama in 2007 backed an amendment to sunset a guest-worker program that was an essential part of an immigration deal crafted by Republicans and former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Kennedy opposed the amendment, but Obama — who was then running for president — supported the measure, and it was approved by one vote, 49-48.

The immigration bill then stalled, and the Senate coalition failed to regain enough momentum to push it to final passage.

Obama’s behavior apparently angered even Kennedy, who told the young senator he couldn’t just parachute in to torpedo the work. But that’s exactly what Obama did. As the bill began losing steam, on June 4, 2007 the Washington Post listed the primary obstacles to the compromise, including an amendment from Obama and Robert Menendez. The next day, Obama refused to back down, even if it meant killing the bill, explaining he intended to hold up the process until he could win the presidency. Two days after that, the bill was effectively dead, though for good measure two weeks later Obama would offer another controversial amendment just in case the bill gained any last-minute momentum before that year’s congressional summer break.

That history probably explains why the White House declined to dispute the Hill’s characterization of the events of 2007–they were accurate. And each time, Obama has made the decision to keep the issue on the table for electoral purposes. Before the 2008 election, he sabotaged the immigration reform process and then ran a Spanish-language ad against John McCain distorting McCain’s record on the issue and setting a new low for the campaign’s dishonest advertising and dirty tricks. When Rubio tried to fix the immigration system last year, Obama scuttled that one too, using the issue to help his re-election campaign.

The question now is whether Obama actually wants reform since he no longer needs the votes, or if yet again he’ll stand outside the process while others are working toward a compromise only to destroy the process at the last moment. The latter would, unfortunately, be more consistent with Obama’s history.

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Is Another Complacency Trap Awaiting GOP on Immigration?

Reason magazine’s website has published an illustration on the convoluted and often hopeless process of immigrating to the U.S. and applying for citizenship, originally published in its October 2008 issue on immigration. If you have a non-immediate relative who is an American citizen it can still take up to 28 years to gain citizenship, though as the diagram notes, there are many cases that never even get that far. And despite the value that “unskilled” immigrants can offer certain sectors of the American economy, Reason’s map points out:

There is virtually no process for unskilled immigrants without relations in the U.S. to apply for permanent legal residence. Only 10,000 green cards are allotted every year, and the wait time approaches infinity. (Those who receive H-2A or H-2B temporary visas for seasonal work cannot transition to a green card.)

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Reason magazine’s website has published an illustration on the convoluted and often hopeless process of immigrating to the U.S. and applying for citizenship, originally published in its October 2008 issue on immigration. If you have a non-immediate relative who is an American citizen it can still take up to 28 years to gain citizenship, though as the diagram notes, there are many cases that never even get that far. And despite the value that “unskilled” immigrants can offer certain sectors of the American economy, Reason’s map points out:

There is virtually no process for unskilled immigrants without relations in the U.S. to apply for permanent legal residence. Only 10,000 green cards are allotted every year, and the wait time approaches infinity. (Those who receive H-2A or H-2B temporary visas for seasonal work cannot transition to a green card.)

This points to one source of frustration voters have when it comes to major reform legislation: the political class was unable to fix obvious problems before they got out of hand. Now voters are being told their elected representatives are going to be capable of fully solving a problem they couldn’t contain. Several examples of this cropped up during the debate over Obamacare. Of course people should have been able to buy health insurance across state lines, and of course catastrophic-care plans more suited to the needs of many healthy young people should have been more widely available. Both would have helped curb the cost of health care–as would have tort reform.

Instead, the problem festered and costs spun out of control until voters were told the industry was in crisis and the only solution was a mammoth, expensive, bureaucracy-heavy overhaul of dubious constitutionality. “Fixing the immigration system” sounds like quite an undertaking, and it is–but it remains a necessary one, no less so because there were steps that could and should have been taken along the way.

What’s interesting here, as the New York Times’s Richard Stevenson points out today, is that Congress’s lack of urgency on the issue actually outlasted what was considered the crisis point:

By some key measures, the problems underlying illegal immigration — the economic and demographic pressures that have drawn Mexicans north for decades in search of jobs and a better life, and the challenges for the United States of securing its borders — have diminished over the past six years.

The Mexican economy, while still riddled with inefficiency and inequality, is nonetheless humming along, providing many more job opportunities for Mexican workers. And in Mexico, the source of about 6 in 10 illegal immigrants in the United States, the birthrate has plummeted over the last few decades, shrinking the pool of potential emigrants.

“We are at a moment when the underlying drivers of what has been persistent, growing illegal immigration for 40 years have shifted,” said Doris Meissner, a commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President Bill Clinton and now a fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a research group. “There are some fundamental new realities.”

Mexican birthrates have fallen sharply and something of a Mexican middle class has emerged. Those two factors are likely to continue if and when the American economy turns around. What has given the pro-immigration reform crowd the advantage is that one “crisis” has remained: the political crisis of the Republican Party, which now has an electoral incentive to support immigration reform–something they should have done long ago–regardless of the rates of low-skilled and illegal immigration.

As I’ve written before, the GOP’s trouble attracting Hispanic voters is much more complex than just the immigration issue, but fixing the system is a good start. Immigration reform is also the right policy, regardless of the votes that come with it. And a look at that Reason chart tells you just how long ago something should have been done. But wavering conservatives shouldn’t fool themselves into learning the wrong lesson from Stevenson’s piece and thinking that since this particular wave of immigration has subsided, the system can handle another round of procrastination.

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Rubio to the Rescue

In the aftermath of a GOP presidential primary in which candidates spoke about “self-deportation” and building “electric fences,” it’s not surprising the Republican nominee lost the Hispanic vote in 2012. But it’s the margin of the defeat that is staggering: 44 points. This, after George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

The GOP has a problem with the fastest growing demographic group in America–and Florida Senator Marco Rubio knows it and is determined to do something about it.

As this interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski demonstrates, Senator Rubio has thought through the issue with care and thoroughness–from border security, to moving us toward merit and skill-based legal immigration, to increasing the number of visas for permanent and seasonal farm workers, to workplace enforcement, to what to do with the 12 million illegals currently in America (including making accommodations for people who came to America unlawfully with their parents). 

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In the aftermath of a GOP presidential primary in which candidates spoke about “self-deportation” and building “electric fences,” it’s not surprising the Republican nominee lost the Hispanic vote in 2012. But it’s the margin of the defeat that is staggering: 44 points. This, after George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.

The GOP has a problem with the fastest growing demographic group in America–and Florida Senator Marco Rubio knows it and is determined to do something about it.

As this interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski demonstrates, Senator Rubio has thought through the issue with care and thoroughness–from border security, to moving us toward merit and skill-based legal immigration, to increasing the number of visas for permanent and seasonal farm workers, to workplace enforcement, to what to do with the 12 million illegals currently in America (including making accommodations for people who came to America unlawfully with their parents). 

Senator Rubio also understands that while immigration reform isn’t a magic bullet for the GOP, the immigration issues is “a gateway issue for Hispanics… No matter what your stance is on a number of other issues, if people somehow come to believe that you don’t like them or want them here, it’s difficult to get them to listen to anyone else.”

That’s right; and that is what the modern GOP had done, for reasons that strike me as substantively wrong and politically unwise. There are ways for Republicans to deal with illegal immigration without coming across as anti-Hispanic and anti-immigration.

Conservatives like Marco Rubio are perfectly situated to begin to correct that problem, and the sooner, the better.

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Can Immigration Be a Winning Issue for Lindsey Graham?

Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

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Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

One underreported aspect of Graham’s relationship with the conservative base is the changing politics of immigration for the GOP. Mitt Romney’s lopsided loss among Hispanics (and immigrant groups in general) in the November election gave new momentum, as well as popular support and political cover, to the GOP’s immigration moderates. Though South Carolina voters are not Florida voters, it would be a strange sight indeed for conservative voters to primary Graham over the issue of immigration but not, say, Marco Rubio–a conservative senator often associated with the Tea Party movement and a beneficiary of the right’s “primarying” strategy himself–who was planning to introduce his own version of the DREAM Act this past year.

John McCain, Graham’s fellow immigration reformer and close friend in the Senate, was also vulnerable on the issue in 2010 and seemed to run to his right on immigration to fend off a primary challenge. Graham may not have to adjust his position on immigration to fend off a primary challenge–indeed, Graham’s enthusiasm for immigration reform is looking to be more like the party’s future than its past. If that shift really takes place, it should take the issue off the table for primary challengers and may make Graham’s moderation seem wise and ahead of its time. That would be a remarkable turnaround for the party and the issue of immigration, yet it is a quite plausible scenario.

There are, of course, other reasons Graham is stronger than he seemed all along. Aside from the Benghazi episode, Graham has the fundraising and party network advantages of incumbency. He has also been one of the party’s leaders on foreign policy, where his views have been closer to his conservative base than on the issue of immigration.

He’s not out of the woods yet. The so-called fiscal cliff debate looks headed for a compromise involving raising taxes, and Graham has suggested the right be open to raising tax rates. Yet if the party caves on taxes as part of a final deal, it may absolve Graham of some of the blame. If conservatives in the GOP end up supporting some tax increases, Graham won’t be an outlier–even among conservatives. That might take the issue off the table, or at least dull its impact, the way immigration went from being evidence of Graham’s apostasy to a GOP mainstream policy position just in time for Graham’s reelection.

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