The Hard Sell
On Tuesday, FoxNews published an op-ed by Senator Marco Rubio(R-FL) discussing his views on immigration. I have some thoughts on what Senator Rubio has discussed, and I find some of his article misleading and disappointing. Rather than simply summarize his column, I am providing a link to its full text as well as taking it on, point-by-point here. The article is entitled Here’s the Truth About My Plan for Immigration Reform, and I suppose I could start with the title: Senator Rubio’s column does much to characterize his plan in a generous light, but those characterizations do not seem to match the bill’s substance. He opens:
“Americans believe in the value of immigration. We are the most generous nation on earth to immigrants, allowing over one million people a year to come here legally. They come here in pursuit of what we recognize as the American dream – the chance to live in freedom and have the opportunity to work hard to make a better life for themselves and their families.”
Like Senator Rubio, and most Americans, I too believe in the value of immigration. My own wife is an immigrant, as were my grandparents and great-grandparents. The United States is the most generous nation on Earth toward immigrants, but this may be part of the problem. Sometimes, our naive generosity leads to policies that permit people who have malevolent designs land on our shores. Not all native-born Americans recognize the American dream, much as they might like to, in part because they are forced to carry the burdens of politicians’ generosity with the public treasury. The chance to live in freedom is a glorious thing, but I suspect that if one were to survey immigrants who have come here legally over the last three decades, liberty is in marked decline in part because our immigration policies have and continue to inflict a serious burden on the American people. It is the job of Senator Rubio and his cohorts to explain why Americans ought to bear more burdens on the behalf of immigrants. Such explanations should come in terms of concrete legislative language rather than flowery prose. Senator Rubio continues:
“The problem is that our legal immigration system has been broken for decades. It has enabled 11 million people to come here illegally or overstay visas. It is a bureaucratic and inefficient system that does not address the needs of our economy.
All this has further deepened the American people’s mistrust in the ability of their government to perform basic functions.”
Our legal immigration system has been broken for decades. It is not, however, the laws that are malfunctioning, but instead the bureaucracy that is entrusted with executing them. There are only 11-20 million illegal immigrants because this government has taken no concrete steps to enforce the laws already on the books. To the contrary, this president and his predecessors have intentionally undermined those laws, or in the case of the current president, actively set out to ignore them by issuing orders preventing their enforcement. The purpose of the immigration system is not to address the needs of the economy. Its purposes are to serve the needs of the nation in all aspects, not merely economic, but also security, cultural, and moral. Senator Rubio seems focused on the economic aspects at the expense of even our national security, much as the recent attacks in Boston demonstrate. That our current system permitted those two to gain entry to the nation and to remain is a damning rebuke of our current system, but unfortunately, because Sen. Rubio’s bill is more focused on economics than on security, this is not likely to be addressed by his bill. Sen. Rubio warns us:
“Leaving in place a broken immigration system -– and the millions of people whose identities are a mystery to us –- is simply not an acceptable option. This must be fixed.”
Our current immigration system is broken, but what is more broken is our immigration enforcement systems. As examples in opposition to Senator Rubio’s claim, the Tsarnaev brothers were legally in the country and we knew who they were. The 9/11 hijackers were legally in this country and we knew who they were. It is not merely the identities of illegal aliens that is a problem, but it is critical to remember it is a separate problem from legal visitors who overstay visas, or legal immigrants who are permitted to stay despite convictions for crimes and applications to welfare systems. The problems born of the bureaucracy are clear, but they are separate and apart from the conscious decisions by those responsible for carrying our laws into execution who for whatever reasons or pretenses simply fail or even refuse to do so. Senator Rubio’s bill does absolutely nothing to address a bureaucracy and an executive branch that refuses to carry out the law.
“That is why I am advocating for securing our borders, improving enforcement, modernizing our legal immigration system and changing it so that it prioritizes welcoming people to the U.S. based on skills, not just on whether they have a family member already living here.”
Senator Rubio says he is for securing our borders and improving enforcement. If I take that on faith, let me suggest that the Senator could do a good deal to remedy the distrust he laments by taking these steps first. As in medicine, when addressing something one claims is an emergency, one must evaluate the problem. We cannot assess the true scope of the problem until there has been a good faith effort on behalf of the United States Federal Government to improve enforcement and to secure our borders. Otherwise, what Senator Rubio herein promises is a preposterous reiteration of existing law that condenses to the sentiment: “We are going to pass a law to tell our government to more forcefully enforce existing law.” This is an absurd proposal, inasmuch as a government that cannot be entrusted to enforce existing law certainly cannot be entrusted to enforce a more stringent one. It’s akin to claiming, “OK, well, we’re really, really serious this time.” As much as anybody, I think immigration ought to include certain tests as to what skills a person brings to the game, but is Senator Rubio seriously suggesting that people from India are less-skilled than those from Central and South America?
Senator Rubio continues, ticking off a laundry list of measures:
“And that is why I support a process to identify and register those who are here illegally. They will have to submit biometric data in order to pass multiple national security and criminal background checks, pay $2,000 in fines, pay taxes, and learn English and American civics. They won’t be able to get any federal benefits like welfare or ObamaCare.
Fines? Most of the people immigrating to this country can’t afford $2.00 in fines, much less $2000.00. Will there be waivers for the fines? Will President Obama simply sign an extra-statutory waiver to fines, like he did with Obama-care?
“Before they can even apply to become permanent residents, they will have to wait at least ten years. They will have to get in line behind those who are trying to come the right way.”
Why should they be permitted into line at all? After violating the laws of the United States, why aren’t they prohibited? More, what is the real chance that somebody who is told they won’t get permanent resident status for at least ten years deciding voluntarily to “step out of the shadows” and be liable for fines and a ten year wait?
“They will have to wait until we have a system in place to prevent illegal immigrants from being hired.”
What will make them wait? The same farcical enforcement exhibited by the Obama Administration?
“They will have to wait until we have a system in place to track people who overstay their visas.”
People who overstay their visas? Those are people who started out with legal status, having arrived here legally. That’s an entirely different law enforcement problem from the immigrant who had sneaked into the country in disregard of our laws from the outset.
“And they will have to wait until we implement plans to spend at least $5.5 billion dollars to secure the border through more border patrol officers, more technology and more fencing.”
We’ve been promised all of this before. In 1986, and several times since, we’ve been promised all sorts of improvements, and yet despite a mass amnesty in 1986, the Federal Government has managed to let another 11-20 million people come into the country. The truth is that the number may be even higher, but we can’t know, since in 1986, and all the years since, this government has not kept its promises. What Senator Rubio here offers is another promise. I’m afraid that I must insist that government finally fulfill its past promises before we consider any more, in the name of decency, and in the name of holding my government to its word.
“I thought long and hard before taking on this issue. I understand how divisive it can be. I’ve seen how the left has used it to accuse opponents of their version of reform of being bigots and racists. And I would much rather be having a debate on the more fundamental ways we can grow our economy and get our debt and spending under control. But with or without us, the president and the Democrats who control the Senate were going to bring this issue up.”
Sadly, even Senator Rubio’s spokesman uses the language of division. As many noted on Monday, your own spokesman, Mr. Conant, abrasively and dishonestly compared the status of immigrants to that of slaves. Is the Senator seriously suggesting that his spokesman is a leftist, or only that his spokesman has resorted to the dishonest tactics of the left? The President and his friends in the Senate do not control the House, so that any such bill could be stopped there if Republicans weren’t insisting on shoving bad legislation down the throats of an unwilling American people.
“And I believe conservatives need to fight for the ideas and policies we believe are critical to fixing our immigration system.”
I agree that conservatives need to fight for the ideas and policies that are critical to fixing our immigration system, but they must be the right ideas, and they must conform to conservative principles and the rule of law. Sadly, Senator Rubio’s proposal does no such thing. I am anxious for the day when we can eliminate undue burdens inflicted on lawful immigrants, but I will not flex or move so much as one inch on the legal liabilities of those who have already broken the laws of our country. More, before I will accept any movement on this, there must be a good faith enforcement of the laws of our nation, and a keeping of promises already made.
“The opponents of reform raise important points about not rewarding the violation of the law. I, too, have felt the frustration many feel that our nation’s generosity has been taken advantage of by some.”
“But policy-making is about solving problems. And to pick the right solution, you have to weigh the realistic alternatives. Deporting all illegal immigrants is not a practical solution. But ignoring the fact that they are here is just as bad.”
Are we to take from this that while the Senator finds those points raised by opponents to be important, he’s perfectly willing to dismiss them? One needn’t talk dismissively of the idea of deporting all illegal aliens immediately and at once, but one must explain why a good faith effort isn’t being made to deport as many of them as reasonably possible. I have tired of this dismissive approach to the issue as expressed here by Senator Rubio and some others, who derisively suggest that we cannot deport all of them. The country that launched three men to the moon cannot deport people illegally in the country? Preposterous! The country that invented the Atom-Bomb cannot deport people who have come into the country illegally? Nonsense. Nobody expects the US Government to flip a switch and instantaneously corral 11-20 million people, pushing them out of the country the next day, but if there are 11-20 million of them, it shouldn’t be too hard to find one-tenth of them. This insulting line of dismissal is one of the reasons there is a distrust between the American people and their government on this issue, a distrust Senator Rubio laments, but herein promotes. Who has been ignoring the fact that they are here? The American people are too well aware of the presence of millions of illegals, because while they allegedly hide in the shadows, they seem to fill our emergency rooms and our schools and our courtrooms. Who is ignoring it? The American people, or their government?
“For example, passing a law that only focuses on modernization and enforcement and leaves for another day the issue of those here illegally is not a good idea. Because as the enforcement measures kick in, millions of people living here illegally will be unable to work and provide for themselves and their families. The resulting humanitarian impact will then force us to scramble to address it. It is better to address it now as part of an orderly and measured process.”
Again, this expectation that we will force 11-20 million people to pack their bags in one day is preposterous. Can we not begin with a somewhat less ambitious number and work our way up? No, you see, the Senator is concerned first and foremost with the economic impact on the nation, and businesses that employ illegals may be hampered if they cannot continue. Welfare workers would have less to do, and therefore justification for their jobs. Senator Rubio should not take such liberties in assuming that we are so desperately stupid and childish as to believe enforcement could come at once and immediately in complete perfection.
“The only solution I know that can work is to reform legal immigration in a way that is good for the economy, do everything we can to secure the border, and allow illegal immigrants to eventually earn permanent residency by passing background checks, paying a fine, learning English and waiting at the back of the line for at least 10 years, at the same time that border security and enforcement measures are put in place to prevent this problem from happening again.”
Again with the economy? I have news for Senator Rubio: The economy is doing poorly already. The easiest improvement to the economy by virtue of our immigration policy is to be gained by deporting as many as we can, and preventing those here from making use of our welfare state. That would address many issues, including our deficit and exploding national debt. The benefits to our economy and to our fiscal condition would be immediate.
“The bill I helped write is a good starting point, but it is not a take it or leave it proposition. I am open to any ideas others may have on how to do this, and I’ve been listening to the legitimate concerns people have raised with the expectation that we will be able to improve the bill as this debate continues.”
I am glad that Senator Rubio views this law as a proposal open to amendment and revision. If he’s serious, he could scrap the 800-plus page bill and offer a simpler one, as an act of good faith on the part of the United States Government keeping its past promises to its citizens. He can draft a resolution stating that before any easing of immigration requirements can commence, the current laws of the United States must be in full force for not less than five years, at which time the American people can re-evaluate the government’s efforts to earnestly enforce the law and secure our border. In short, get back to us when you show you can enforce the current law, a law you claim is not even as stringent as your new proposal. If the new law is so much tougher, it should be a simple matter indeed to merely enforce current law.
“We must do something to end today’s de facto amnesty, and conservative Republicans should lead on this issue. Because without conservatives at the table and in the fight, we are ceding this issue to President Obama and his allies in Congress. And as the last four years have proven, that is never a good idea.”
Senator Rubio should grasp that conservatives have no need or reason to come to a table to negotiate in good faith when past promises have been broken and previous laws ignored. If the Senator is serious about his concerns regarding the prospective actions of President Obama, he should surely join in the open opposition to the President and his allies in Congress. Perhaps rather than preach to conservatives as to how they must accept the “inevitable,” Senator Rubio could instead join with other senators in sufficient numbers to prevent its inevitability. I recognize the fact that Senator Rubio has worked hard at pushing this legislation, but given what we’ve learned about the concrete legislative language in this bill, he should perhaps consider spending more time on the bill’s reformulation than on salesmanship. Sufficiently addressing the former would certainly ease the chore that will be the latter. It is on this basis that I oppose this bill, because if a serious proposal were brought forward that would address the concerns of conservatives, complying with their cherished principles without dismissively deriding them as unrealistic, conservatives might well go along. Until then, I must respectfully disagree with the Senator’s bill. Simply put, it’s not good enough.