We are conservatives who have differed in the past on immigration reform, with Kristol favorably disposed toward it and Lowry skeptical. But the Gang of Eight has brought us into full agreement: Their bill, passed out of the Senate, is a comprehensive mistake. House Republicans should kill it without reservation.
There is no case for the bill, and certainly no urgency to pass it. During the debate over immigration in 2006–07, Republican rhetoric at times had a flavor that communicated a hostility to immigrants as such. That was a mistake, and it did political damage. This time has been different. The case against the bill has been as responsible as it has been damning.
It’s become clear that you can be pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, and even favor legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here and increases in some categories of legal immigration—and vigorously oppose this bill.
The bill’s first fatal deficiency is that it doesn’t solve the illegal-immigration problem. The enforcement provisions are riddled with exceptions, loopholes, and waivers. Every indication is that they are for show and will be disregarded, just as prior notional requirements to build a fence or an entry/exit visa system have been—and just as President Obama has recently announced he’s ignoring aspects of Obamacare that are inconvenient to enforce on schedule. Why won’t he waive a requirement for the use of E-Verify just as he’s unilaterally delayed the employer mandate? The fact that the legalization of illegal immigrants comes first makes it all the more likely that enforcement provisions will be ignored the same way they were after passage of the 1986 amnesty.
Marco Rubio says he doesn’t want to have to come back ten years from now and deal with the same illegal-immigration problem. But that’s exactly what the CBO says will happen under his own bill. According to the CBO analysis of the bill, it will reduce illegal immigration by as little as a third or by half at most. By one estimate, this means there will be about 7.5 million illegal immigrants here in ten years. And this is under the implausible assumption that the Obama administration would administer the law as written.
The bill’s changes in legal immigration are just as ill considered. Everyone professes to agree that our system should be tilted toward high-skilled immigration, but the Gang of Eight bill unleashes a flood of additional low-skilled immigration. The last thing low-skilled native and immigrant workers already here should have to deal with is wage-depressing competition from newly arriving workers. Nor is the new immigration under the bill a panacea for the long-term fiscal ills of entitlements, as often argued, because those programs are redistributive and most of the immigrants will be low-income workers.
Finally, there is the sheer size of the bill and the hasty manner in which it was amended and passed. Conservatives have eloquently and convincingly made the case against bills like this during the Obama years. Such bills reflect a mistaken belief in central planning and in practice become a stew of deals, payoffs, waivers, and special-interest breaks. Why would House Republicans now sign off on this kind of lawmaking? If you think Obamacare and Dodd-Frank are going swimmingly, you’ll love the Gang of Eight bill. It’s the opposite of conservative reform, which simplifies and limits government, strengthens the rule of law, and empowers citizens.
There’s no rush to act on immigration. The Democrats didn’t do anything when they controlled all of the elected branches in 2009 and 2010. The Gang of Eight tells us constantly that we have a de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants now. Fine. What’s the urgent need to act immediately, then?
The Republicans eager to back the bill are doing so out of political panic. “I think Republicans realize the implications for the future of the Republican party in America if we don’t get this issue behind us,” John McCain says. This is silly. Are we supposed to believe that Republican Senate candidates running in states such as Arkansas, North Carolina, Iowa, Virginia, and Montana will be hurt if the party doesn’t embrace Chuck Schumer’s immigration bill?
If Republicans take the Senate and hold the House in 2014, they will be in a much better position to pass a sensible immigration bill. At the presidential level in 2016, it would be better if Republicans won more Hispanic voters than they have in the past—but it’s most important that the party perform better among working-class and younger voters concerned about economic opportunity and upward mobility. Passing this unworkable, ramshackle bill is counterproductive or irrelevant to that task.
House Republicans may wish to pass incremental changes to the system to show that they have their own solutions, even though such legislation is very unlikely to be taken up by the Senate. Or they might not even bother, since Senate Democrats say such legislation would be dead on arrival. In any case, House Republicans should make sure not to allow a conference with the Senate bill. House Republicans can’t find any true common ground with that legislation. Passing any version of the Gang of Eight’s bill would be worse public policy than passing nothing. House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart.
William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard. Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.