The Biggest Problem with an Amnesty Is the *Next* Amnesty

Brother Robinson pitches Mickey Kaus’s approach to an amnesty, and is basically on the right track. As distasteful as it is, an illegal-alien amnesty — like a tax amnesty or parking ticket amnesty — can be a way to clear away the results of past mistakes and make a fresh start.

But Mickey identifies the key problem: The public doesn’t trust the political class to actually make such a fresh start and commit itself to enforcing the law. A poll we did recently found that 70 percent of likely voters had little or no confidence that immigration laws would be enforced after an amnesty, including 54 percent of Democrats and a whopping 88 percent of Republicans.

And that trust gap is well founded. Over at the Corner I linked to excerpts of the debate leading up to the 1986 amnesty. Chuck Schumer, who as a member of the House at the time was a key player in putting together the final deal, said:

What is it not? It is not millions of people cascading across the border. . . . It is not welfare benefits for those folks immediately. It is not . . . immediately, wives, husbands, children would come across.

The “immediately” was cute, but all these things all did end up happening. Jim Sensenbrenner also spoke up, earning kudos for predicting that the amnesty would happen but the promised enforcement would not.

Does anyone think a similar deal today wouldn’t turn out the same? Any Republican pushing an amnesty bill now is saying that he trusts Barack Obama to faithfully execute the immigration laws. In fact, as Charles Krauthammer said Monday night, Obama is trying to shove legalization without enforcement “down everybody’s throat.” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said explicitly last week that amnesty should not be tied to the achievement of any enforcement benchmarks (and an underling acknowledged — to the astonishment of the members of a congressional panel — that DHS has no means of measuring the security of the border anyway).

This is why I think Mickey’s basic approach needs a few tweaks. To be fair, the excerpt Peter quoted was from a podcast, where you don’t have a chance to fully elaborate and qualify your ideas. (During that same podcast, I was standing atop a hill overlooking the Rio Grande, pacing around with my cell phone, so I have no idea if I was even coherent.)

One qualification I’d make is that I don’t see how you can promise a future amnesty in legislation, as Mickey suggests, without actually guaranteeing it with the kind of phony “triggers” the Gang of Eight is talking about. Instead, the promise to take up amnesty down the road (after the necessary immigration security infrastructure is in place and survives legal challenge) is a political statement, not a statutory one. It can be an important political statement, and one that could resonate with voters, but it shouldn’t be written into law.

The upshot is this: The political class has to earn the right to enact an amnesty. When the public sees that employers aren’t able to hire illegal aliens, and those that do are genuinely punished; that people who come on visas aren’t able to simply remain illegally with impunity; that the Border Patrol, which is currently smaller than the NYPD, is able to prevent the kind of surge in illegal immigration we’re now seeing in South Texas; only then could an amnesty become a viable option, both politically and in a policy sense.

There’s an old Vulcan proverb: “Only Nixon could go to China” (alternatively, “only Kirk could go to Qo’noS”). By the same token, it will take an immigration hawk to restore public trust in the political class’s commitment to enforcing American sovereignty. With that restored trust will come increased flexibility in amnestying established illegal aliens. But the first order of business has to be to kill the current amnesty push. If it passes, in whatever form, we will be back here in a decade debating the next amnesty.

  1. Larry3435

    Here is the speech I would like to hear a Republican candidate give on immigration:

    Fellow American citizens and legal residents, I am pro immigration. I want to increase the number of legal immigrants from all over the world, and make the process work in weeks instead of years. I would grant legal status to anyone who comes to America to study in one of our universities, and graduates.  I would grant legal status to anyone who has the desire and the means to come to America to start a business that employs at least ten people. I would give a work permit to anyone who wants to come here to work, but I would tax the employers who hire them to make sure that these are really “jobs that Americans won’t do.” Those taxes would also help fund schools and services for these guest workers.  (Cont’d)

  2. Larry3435

    Part 2:

    Most of all, I would address the worst threat to legal immigrants. That threat is illegal immigrants. People who jump the line to come here. People who work in the shadows and drive down wages. Nothing, absolutely nothing, hurts America’s immigrants more than these illegals. In the name of decency, and to protect immigration in America, we must secure our borders and stop the flood of illegals. We must do this because America is, and will always be, pro-immigration.

  3. Chris Anderson

    Larry3435,

    That could have been John McCain’s (or GWB’s) speech in 2006, for all the good it did them. As for “America is, and will always be, pro-immigration,” that ignores, among other things, 1924-1965.

    I think a good rule-of-thumb in judging immigration policies is, “Does this policy benefit the American citizenry, and their descendants?” Full stop. Thinking that immigration policy should be crafted for the benefit of immigrants first is behind our broken immigration system. Mark Krikorian lays it out very completely in  “The New Case Against Immigration.” I recommend it highly.

  4. Larry3435
    Chris Anderson: Larry3435,

    That could have been John McCain’s (or GWB’s) speech in 2006, for all the good it did them. 

    What I wrote is nowhere near the McCain/Bush position.  Those guys wanted to give citizenship to illegals, and turn them into Democratic voters.  They offered no concrete proposals for getting the right kind of immigrants, nor any answers for how to pay for the wrong kind of immigrants.  

    The GOP has to sell itself as pro-immigration, and has to reveal the Democrats as cynical, self-serving jerks who want to get Latinos the vote and then warehouse them in ghettos to be hauled out every election and otherwise forgotten.

    Truth on our side. We must tell it.

  5. Mike LaRoche
    Mark Krikorian: The upshot is this: The political class has toearn the right to enact an amnesty. When the public sees that employers aren’t able to hire illegal aliens, and those that do are genuinely punished; that people who come on visas aren’t able to simply remain illegally with impunity; that the Border Patrol, which is currently smaller than the NYPD, is able to prevent the kind of surge in illegal immigration we’re now seeing in South Texas; onlythen could an amnesty become a viable option, both politically and in a policy sense.

    As someone who is a native of South Texas, who has seen the area turn into a war zone since the passage of the original amnesty bill in 1986, I can say that you are absolutely correct.

    The biggest problem is that the majority of those who govern us, amongst both political parties, simply don’t give a damn.  They truly don’t care how many people have died, are dying, or will die as a result of their stupidity and carelessness.  I have zero faith in the political class.

  6. Douglas
    TeeJaw: The biggest problem with amnesty is that it favors those who are in the country illegally over the millions trying to come in legally.  I guess legal immigrants don’t vote heavily enough for Democrats.  

    Republicans will all get Darwin awards if they go along with this. · 9 hours ago

    Exactly. Pass an amnesty for car thieves, and watch how much grand theft auto goes up. That’s what happens when you decline to punish lawbreakers. You get more of them.

  7. Joseph Eagar

    I’ve always liked Kaus’s idea myself, but Mark Krikorian is persuasive.  At times I really hate our political elites; we should be able to trust them to implement a Kaus-type bill, but unfortunately, we can’t.

  8. Ralph Baskett

    I do not see how there will ever be any serious immigration control until there is effective internal security.  Fences or visa controls of whatever kind will always be breached. 

    Internal security would require that everyone always have a national ID in their possession. Then, it would be simple for police and others to identify illegal  aliens, employers could easily check and would not have to deal with paperwork,  it would be difficult for individuals to commit voter fraud (as opposed to poll workers),  welfare fraud, as well as other forms of fraud, would be more difficult and it would be more likely that  potential terrorists would be identified.

    It is naive to believe that not carrying a national ID card gives the individual any substantial additional security.  Honest citizens are only without an ID by accident,  dishonest by intention and they insist on their rights.  Our Constitutional rights depend upon authorities respecting and observing those rights.  We should be more concerned with the integrity of those in authority and realize that the Constitution does not enforce  itself.

    Are conservatives really serious about controlling  illegal immigration if they are not willing to face this question?

  9. TeeJaw

    The biggest problem with amnesty is that it favors those who are in the country illegally over the millions trying to come in legally.  I guess legal immigrants don’t vote heavily enough for Democrats.  

    Republicans will all get Darwin awards if they go along with this.