Commentary Magazine


Immigration Debate Goes Off the Rails

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

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

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

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

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

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