The internal GOP debate on what to do about illegal immigration splits into roughly two camps-- those who want tougher enforcement and a program to normalize those illegals already here; and those who simply want tougher enforcement and a program to force those illegals already here to leave, whether by outright deportation or because life has become so inhospitable for them that they leave voluntarily. The debate between these two points of view has been vigorous, as the discussions on this blog have shown. (Example here.)
Today's op-ed by Tamar Jacoby suggests that GOP voters strongly favor the enforcement + normalization approach. You need to read the whole thing, but here are some conclustions:
. . . the irony is that an enforcement-only approach won't even please many voters, Democrat or Republican. According to a national poll of 800 likely
Republican voters to be released Monday by the Manhattan Institute, the party rank-and-file is far more pragmatic than many House Republicans believe. Yes, they look favorably on vigilante groups such as the Minutemen. Yes, many of them want to cut the number of legal immigrants we admit each year, and some — 16% — want to stop the flow entirely.
But when pressed about what the government should do to get a grip on illegal immigration, not even a majority think that enforcement alone will solve the problem. An astonishing 84% understand that it would not be possible to deport 11 million foreigners.
And when asked to chose between a combination of enforcing current law and deportation, on the one hand, and, on the other, a registration program that would allow unauthorized workers to come in out of the shadows and earn legal status (the approach often pilloried as "amnesty"), the Republicans surveyed opted resoundingly, by a margin of 58% to 33%, for earned legalization.
The solution they favor (a remarkable 78% say they would support it): an enforcement-plus package much like the one reformers propose that would combine tougher border security, increased penalties for employers, registration for a temporary worker program and — provided those workers pay taxes, learn English and stay on the right side of the law — a path to eventual citizenship.
This is not surprising. What will be interesting to see is whether the GOP will act like a majority party and pass legislation actually dealing with the problem responsibly and thoughtfully, and whether the hard-core pro-deportation wing of the party will take its ball and go home if that happens. The result of such short-sightedness by some conservatives might be a return of the Democrats to power, in which case the illegal immigration problem will only get worse. But in that case many pro-deportation conservatives will be in the position they seem most comfortable with: simply complaining about the government's failure to govern by abstract "conservative" principles, rather than getting behind an imperfect solution that might actually work in the long run.