If you're interested at all in illegal immigration, you'll want to read Tamar Jacoby's piece in today's L.A. Times. Jacoby summarizes the current state of the debate:
- The great majority of Americans prefer a comprehensive approach, combining serious and effective enforcement with some kind of path to citizenship for the illegals already here.
- The small minority that insists on an enforcement-only approach and opposes a comprehensive approach is so vociferous that Republicans in Congress are afraid to risk that minority's wrath.
- And yet an even larger group of voters (primarily Republicans) want something done even if that solution includes something they consider to be amnesty.
This leaves the GOP with a difficult choice: Whose anger do they risk?
Some devastating paragraphs from Jacoby's piece:
The Gallup Poll, Washington Post/ABC News, Time, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, CNN and the Republican National Committee have all come to the same conclusion: Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the public would be willing to let illegal immigrants stay in the country and earn eventual citizenship, provided they meet requirements such as paying back taxes and learning English.
The problem is the other 20% to 25% — and, survey after survey show that's the extent of their numbers. A USA Today poll in May painted their portrait in vivid detail: Mostly male, white and without a college degree, they believe immigrants are bad for the economy; they want to build a wall along the border; and they adamantly oppose allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens. Only about half are Republicans, and if we assume that GOP voters make up roughly half of the electorate, then these diehards account for no more than a quarter of the party.
And here's the result:
But many Republican candidates, particularly in the House, are convinced that this group is more intense — more concerned, more motivated, more likely to vote on the basis of this single issue — than anyone else likely to go to the polls. So they have become the tail wagging the dog of the national debate about immigration, leading many House Republicans to conclude that blocking reform could be a political winner.
Yep. And the real problem facing Dennis Hastert and company is this:
House Republicans could be setting themselves up for a fall. How can they travel around the country all summer, hold hearings and insist that immigration is the most pressing domestic policy problem we face, and then come back to Washington in September and sit on their hands? They risk losing not only Latinos and swing voters (both of whom are more likely than other voters to be put off by the GOP's anti-immigrant rhetoric) but also staunch Republicans (who feel most strongly, by a 75% margin, that it is "very" or "extremely important" for Congress to come to grips with illegal immigration this year).
Is there a way out of this mess? Only one solution is now on the horizon: the Hutchison-Pence Border Security Immigration Reform Plan, which might just be the last hope for reform this year, if Fred Barnes is right. The problem with the Pence bill is that is does not accept the Laura Ingraham prescription for reform: "Enforce the borders, then we'll talk." In other words: "We don't even want to talk about paths to citizenship or anything smacking of amnesty at all. We'll discuss that after we feel the borders are secure, and we'll let you know when we feel that has occurred."
In my view, anyone who thinks those hard-liners will ever want to talk seriously about a path to citizenship for the illegals who are already here has been smoking something. And yet, given the intensity and inflexibility of their views, I am not surprised that the Republicans in Congress, with a thin majority and a restless base, are terrified of those people. Disappointed, yes; but not surprised.
Pence would require those illegals to go home and apply for permission to re-enter the country legally, but even that is too much for the "no amnesty" crowd. Here's Fred Barnes' summary of the Pence-Hutchison bill (the summary is quoted with approval on Pence's web site):
It would start with the buildup of law enforcement along America's southern border: more border guards, drug enforcement agents, helicopters, detention facilities, unmanned aerial vehicles, and miles of fence. This enforcement-only beginning is aimed to appeal to House conservatives.Sounds like a plan that would appeal to most people concerned about the issue. We'll see if the absolutists will buy into it. I'm not optimistic.
Once a series of specific benchmarks were met and certified by the president--a two-year lag is expected--the guest worker program could start. Illegals in the United States would have to return to their home country to sign up at private "Ellis Island centers." If they had a job in the United States, they would get a tamper-proof ID card and quickly return to the States. After 17 years, they would be eligible to begin the process of gaining American citizenship.
Update: Called As Seen has more.