I offer the following as simple, plain truths about our porous borders:
1. As this editorial argues, the first order of business is to secure the border. This must be done before implementing complex guest worker programs or tinkering with the Constitution's provisions stating that native-born babies are citizens. President Bush's speech yesterday suggests he now understands this.
2. The second order of business is to enforce existing laws prohibiting the hiring of illegals. The president has not shown much enthusiasm for this in the past; from yesterday's speech it sounds like he is starting to "get it."
3. It is neither practical, politically feasible, nor humane to attempt to round up and deport the 11 million illegals who are already here. Some kind of guest worker program will be essential to any solution. The great majority of Republicans agree with this.
It is that last bit of truth that may sink conservative support for Bush's plan. Guest worker plans drive bloggers on the right like Michelle Malkin and talk show hosts like Laura Ingraham right up the wall. They simply can't stomach anything that even looks remotely like amnesty.
This is very short-sighted, as this blog has discussed at length many times, including here, here, and here. Opponents of guest worker programs do not offer a credible alternative approach. Forgive me for quoting myself now:
For example, Laura Ingraham, of whom I am a great fan and whose show I love, consistently insists on the blinkered approach: Send them home and seal the borders. Many others seem to agree. Scott at Power Line suggests that Edward
Erler is the voice of the opposition to Jacoby's view, but the Washington Times
piece Scott refers to seems to be simply about the impending dilution of
American culture by uncontrolled immigration-- again, stating the problem well,
but not offering a solution. Erler does the same thing here and here. Not a
proposed solution in sight.
The practical problem is that if the Malkins and Ingrahams of the world refuse to get behind a plan, then Republicans won't support it and it won't be enacted. That's the problem with some elements of conservatism-- they can't make things happen, but they can stop things from happening. This is partly because they give new meaning to the word "tenacious."
The anti-guest worker group would have you believe they know what "the American people" want. Indeed, they seem quite certain that they know. Well, they should get out more. Tamar Jacoby wrote recently of "a national poll of 800 likely Republican voters . . . By the Manhattan Institute:"
[W]hen pressed about what the government should do to get a grip on illegal immigration, not even a majority think that enforcement alone will solve theWe can be sure the White House has the above polling information. The anti-guest worker group probably doesn't care what the poll shows; sometimes it seems they'd rather be certain than right. But by preventing a solution like the one Bush proposes from occurring, they help ensure either that no solution will be enacted, or that Congress, desperate to show it has taken some action, will pass something that tilts more toward the left.
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.
It's one thing to stick to principle; it's quite another to cling stubbornly to a position on an issue. That's neither good policy nor consistent with conservative principles. When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, he announced his absolute opposition to payroll withholding of state income taxes. In Reagan's obituary the L.A. Times reported his famous reversal on the issue:
"My feet are in concrete," he said, over and over. But in 1970, when the
state faced a serious cash flow crisis, Reagan finally gave in. "That sound you
hear," he told reporters, "is the concrete breaking around my feet."
I hope the opposition of some on the right can find similarly nimble feet. Otherwise, immigration will continue to be merely a noisy and divisive debate with no solution in sight.
UPDATE: Kuru Lounge thinks the conservative opposition to guest workers is a case of "the perfect as the enemy of the good." I wish I had said that.