I continue to be amazed at the yawning gap between what Americans really think about illegal immigration and what the extremes - both liberal and conservative-- seem to think. What is even more amazing is that some conservatives (Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity) continue to claim, loudly, that their voice is the one Congress and President Bush should listen to, and that they are the ones who really know what "The American People" think.
Nonsense. Look at these polling data from the Pew Research Center. As the graph at left shows, Republicans of all stripes are divided -- even fractionalized-- on the issue. Remarkably, 42%, a plurality-- and almost a majority-- of Republicans think illegals should be given some kind of temporary status. Conservative Republicans are more in favor of temporary status, with 46% in that category-- more than any other subset of the party.
There is much to say about these numbers, but perhaps their most important message is that the immigration issue is politically complex and there is no clear consensus about the proper approach. Those conservatives who predict that if guest worker-type legislation is enacted, many conservatives will stay home on election day, should re-think their position. Do they really want to hand Congress over to to the Democrats because Congress did not cater to the views of 28% of Republicans on this issue?
Democracy is messy. Clear-cut black and white solutions, although often preferable, are rare. Sometimes creativity and compromise are necessary. These are uncomfortable truths.
I'm a Reagan Republican. I believe Reagan understood those truths, and that his life showed he accepted the principle of compromise when he did not have a majority behind him on a given issue. Those who consider Reagan their model in such matters should ask themselves honestly what he would do in these circumstances. Would not the man who spoke of the "city shining on the hill" also want to find a way to allow hard-working people who want to come to this country and are willing to earn their citizenship to do so? Would he not approve of a requirement that the illegal immigrants among those people admit their wrongdoing, pay a fine, pay back taxes, and go to the back of the line for citizenship?
I think he would. His was not an angry, strident voice, like those we are hearing on the radio now (and reading on the blogosphere) on this issue. Reagan had a sunny, optimistic voice. Let's listen to it now.
UPDATE: George F. Will wrote persuasively Thursday about this issue, from a conservative standpoint:
[C]onservatives should favor reducing illegality by putting illegal
immigrants on a path out of society's crevices and into citizenship by paying
fines and back taxes and learning English. Faux conservatives absurdly call this
price tag on legal status "amnesty." Actually, it would prevent the emergence of
a sullen, simmering subculture of the permanently marginalized, akin to the Arab
ghettos in France. The House-passed bill, making it a felony to be in the
country illegally, would make 11 million people permanently ineligible for legal
status. To what end?
Indeed. Read the whole thing. Also read Jack Kelly's piece today, which is right on the money.
UPDATE 2: Here's an interesting take on the rule of law and immigration.