The reaction of conservatives to the immigration bill has been predictably swift. As usual, however, it's hard to know what the "conservative" position on immigration is. At times, it looks as though nothing short of the immediate and mass deportation of 12 million people will satisfy their anti-amnesty call. But let's take it more slowly. We should not be in a hurry to let National Review, Hugh Hewitt, and even the venerable Rush Limbaugh tell us what the conservative position on immigration ought to be.
Let us dispense first with the anti-McCain and disingenuous "I'm not endorsing Mitt Romney" wing, led by Hugh Hewitt. Now, I was thrilled when I first found Mr. Hewitt on the radio a year before the 2004 election; and I was similarly thrilled that his report on Election Eve that Rove had informed the President that Ohio was won, almost an hour before FNC called the state, was wonderfully accurate. I was less thrilled that his optimistic whistling past the graveyard in the early evening of Election Eve 2006 turned out more like standing on the deck of the Titanic, suggesting that it doesn't seem to be sinking as fast as has been predicted. Those familiar with Mr. Hewitt know that he has claimed for some time that the Gang of 14 cost Republicans the Senate. With little more than anecdotal support, it's hard to know why it wasn't the uttering of the single word "machaca" in the state of Virginia that cost Republican control of the Senate (Or a more familiar word, "Iraq"). So, when Mr. Hewitt predicts that the McCain-led immigration deal will do for Republicans what the Gang of 14 did for them in 2006, we have a right to be suspicious of Mr. Hewitt's claimed insight into the workings of the Republican electorate. So, I will leave Mr. Hewitt aside for the moment, as he continues his campaign for the recently discovered true conservative, Mitt Romney.
Apparently some conservatives -- perhaps this is Mr. Hannity's position -- think that anything less than the immediate execution of current law is amnesty. This, however, implies that anything less than the beginning of the immediate deportation of 12 million people counts as amnesty. Conservatives, like Mr. Hannity, pride themselves on being able to recognize and name evil when they see it. We should hope that they would also be able to recognize and name fantasy when they see it; and that is all that immediate deportation is -- fantasy. But at least this position has the virtue of being consistent. Fantastic, out of touch with the real world...but consistent.
A somewhat less fantastic, but considerably more puzzling position is the following. Don't deport; simply go after the employers. Close down the job opportunities, and the illegal immigrants among us will go back home. No one, not even Ann Coulter, has explained how we will find the resources to close down all such employment opportunities. This sounds to me a little bit like deciding to close down pornography web sites on the Internet. Neither one seems to have much chance of succeeding. And, if going after the source of the jobs were actually our official policy, it would seem such a policy was at the very least temporary amnesty -- perhaps long-term, temporary amnesty: You can stay until we get 'round to arresting your employer.
Neither the Hannity "deport now" nor the Coulter "arrest the bosses now" position seems remotely tenable.
But then it's hard to figure out exactly what the conservative position is. Mr. Limbaugh, too, has described this as amnesty. As I write, Mr. Limbaugh seems to be arguing the following. He thinks this bill is the end of the Republican party, and it is the end of our American, conservative value system. Apparently he thinks that all of these illegal immigrants, once they attain citizenship, will be Democratic voters. He thinks that all of these illegal immigrants will shift the demographics so much to people who will have no "incentive" to be conservative or Republicans; hence, Democrats will win elections as far as the eye can see.
Now, there are at least two bald-faced, empirical claims in this argument, for which Mr. Limbaugh has no evidence; if he does, he is not willing to share it. Earlier Mr. Limbaugh suggested that (at least some) proponents of the bill were claiming critics are racist. Some might, but there are clearly those willing to defend it on other grounds. But if Mr. Limbaugh chooses to criticize the bill on obviously empirical grounds, then we need to know what support he has for them.
Mr. Limbaugh is right about one matter; there is no particular reason that illegal immigrants ought to have a veto over American policy. Yet Mr. Limbaugh persists in characterizing and criticizing a bill -- sometimes in ways that are at odds with descriptions of the bill on news websites and in the morning paper -- while also claiming that no one knows what's in the bill. Mr. Limbaugh deserves our respect for singlehandedly changing the way the conservative view is represented in this country. But this is once that we shouldn't be too quick with our "ditto."
The accounts that I have seen of the bill say that it continues the building of the fence and increases technological and human policing of the border. That is, the bill attends to border security. To simply wave your hand and say "this will never happen" is question-begging. To then suggest that this bill is amnesty is to countenance obscurantism.
One dictionary definition of "amnesty" is that no penalty is exacted for a legal violation. By this definition, this new bill is not amnesty. Since we cannot continue down the current path, conservatives who insist that it is amnesty ought to tell us what realistic, non-amnesty alternative they have in mind.
This was sent to me from "East of Eden"
Update: this essay was bumped to the top to allow comments