President Obama’s promise to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” continues apace. Despite the twin controversies surrounding the debt ceiling and gun control, senior administration officials and lawmakers have told the New York Times that Obama intends to push Congress to embrace comprehensive immigration reform that includes a “path to citizenship” for the nation’s illegal alien population.
The bill proposed by Senate Democrats and the president runs counter to Republican efforts to break reform down into smaller segments. Republicans believe that such an approach that addresses the issues of young illegal immigrants, migrant farmworkers, or highly skilled foreigners separately could make anything that smacks of de facto amnesty more palatable to party members. At the same time, the administration and Democrats will oppose any measures that do not offer subsequently legalized immigrants the chance to become American citizens.
Democrats are facing competition from Republican Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the likely 2016 presidential candidate laid out his own agenda, characterized as an effort to “triangulate” the differences between hard-left liberals who want open borders, and the hard-right’s effort, as the Journal puts it, to “close the door.” As Rubio himself puts it, “legal immigration has been, for our country, one of the things that makes us vibrant and exceptional,” even as he covers himself with commonsense notions that appeal to law-abiding Americans: “Every country in the world has immigration laws and expects to enforce them and we should be no different,” he says.
An integral part of Rubio’s plan, and one likely to resonate with most Americans, includes the “modernization” of legal immigration. “I’m a big believer in family-based immigration,” he says. “But I don’t think that in the 21st century we can continue to have an immigration system where only 6.5 percent of people who come here, come here based on labor and skill. We have to move toward merit and skill-based immigration.” Thus, his preference is for lifting the current hard cap on skilled immigrants, adjusting the number on the basis of demand.
With respect to the other end of the spectrum, Rubio proposes a sufficient number of guest visas for the largely Hispanic (and largely illegal) agricultural workers who pick America’s fruits and vegetables, in order to ”give American agriculture a reliable work force and to give protection to these workers as well,” he contends, further noting that illegals are “vulnerable to being exploited.”
As part of his split-the-difference approach, Rubio has co-sponsored E-Verify legislation that would require employers to check the status of would-be hires against a federal database. E-Verfiy has been extended through September 30, 2015 after Congress approved the measure and the president signed the bill September 28. Yet on the state level, E-Verify requirements remain varied. Some require every employer to use the database, while others limit it to government agencies or, as in the case of Illinois, it is barred completely “until accuracy and timeliness issues are resolved.”
With respect to illegals, Rubio’s ideas sound almost exactly like what the president and Democrats are proposing. All of them would require the payment of fines, and back taxes, usage of the aforementioned verification system, an increase in the number of visas, and the creation of a guest worker program to accommodate low-skill workers.
The sticking points are both procedural and political. Rubio and other Republicans prefer a step-by-step approach rather than a catch-all bill, with Rubio warning that “comprehensive” reform, which he likens to the rancor surrounding Obamacare and the fiscal cliff deals, shows how bad policy “easily sneaks” into such legislation, even as it becomes an easier target for critics as a result. Democrats believe a comprehensive bill is necessary in order to address the more contentious issues. Rubio disagrees, but says it is not a make-or-break consideration with one exception: no bill should give illegals an edge over those who came here legally and applied for residency in the proper way.
Democrats insist that any bill must include eventual citizenship for illegals who meet certain conditions. “This is a bottom line,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) last Thursday. “The Democrats have made it clear we will not accept a bill without a direct path to earned citizenship.” Republican resisters counter that a “pathway to citizenship” is nothing more than amnesty by another name.
The president will outline his proposals soon, possibly during his State of the Union speech February 12. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney alluded to that reality last Wednesday. ”I would say, broadly speaking, that State of the Union addresses tend to include at least a sample of a president’s agenda,” Carney said. “And immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform, is a very high priority of the president’s. But I don’t want to get ahead of the speech.”
Rubio remains skeptical, noting that Obama has “not done a thing” regarding immigration reform, with the exception of his executive order allowing those who illegally entered the country as children to remain here and work for at least two years without fear of being deported. Rubio contends that move “may have even set back the cause a bit. (Obama) poisoned the well for people willing to take on this issue,” he said. Rubio further notes that Democratic inaction includes the two years when they had complete control of Congress following the 2008 election.
The reason for such calculated reticence, despite all promises to the contrary, is obvious: Hispanics are a rock-solid Democrat constituency, regardless of whether or not the president pursues reform. In the 2012 election, 70 percent voted to reelect Obama, and a Pew Poll revealed that the number of Hispanic voters is expected to double within a generation. Furthermore, as it is with so many other issues, the failure to achieve immigration reform can be easily blamed on Republicans–with the full backing of the media–irrespective of virtually anything that actually occurs. Rubio notes the success of that gambit. ”I think it’s the rhetoric by a handful of voices in the minority, but loud nonetheless, that have allowed the left to create an unfair perception that conservatives and Republicans are anti-Hispanic and anti-immigration, and we do have to overcome that.”
Yet for many Americans, reality trumps perception. The 2010 Census reveals that illegal aliens exploit welfare programs used by their American-born anchor babies, and immigrants as a whole use welfare programs at a higher rate than native-born Americans. Such usage contributes to the mind-bending reality that more than 100 million people are now receiving some form of federal welfare, excluding those who benefit solely from Social Security and/or Medicare. “These figures include not only citizens, but non-citizens as well,” revealed the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee.
As for whether illegal immigration is a net plus or minus for the American economy, the numbers are all over the place. In 2010, the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) contended illegals cost America $100 billion per year. The leftist Immigration Policy Center contends the economy comes out “slightly ahead.” There are other contentious statistics regarding crime and competition for jobs that also surround the debate.
Yet the least discussed statistic may present the biggest problem. For the past several years, the same mainstream media that 60 percent of Americans currently distrust have consistently spoken of the 11-12 million illegal aliens who currently reside in the United States. Thus, it stands to reason that all of the reforms currently being considered are based on that approximation. What if that approximation is wrong? What if there are 20 million, or perhaps 30 million, illegal aliens in the nation? What if reform includes the ability to bring one’s extended family into the country?
It is a testament to the level of corruption and/or calculated indifference on the part of both political parties, as well as the mainstream media, that one of the most essential elements of the debate is nowhere to be found. Even Americans who may be sympathetic to granting eventual citizenship to illegals might be alarmed if that legalization comprised ten percent–or more–of the nation’s entire population.
It remains to be seen if immigration reform will be part of this year’s agenda. The divide between the political parties that already exists will no doubt be exacerbated by negotiations on gun control and the fiscal cliff, to the point that another large and contentious issue may be a bridge too far. It may also be next to impossible to determine the precise number of illegals in the United States. But prior to enacting yet another round of immigration reform, much like the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that granted more than 2.7 million illegals amnesty–even as the promises to tighten border security and crack down on employers hiring illegals were virtually ignored–it certainly behooves us to try. Irrespective of the political divide, the potential of completely altering the character of the nation should be impetus enough for such an undertaking.
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