The Right Opinion

Immigration: The Lesser of Two Evils

By Charles Krauthammer · Feb. 22, 2013

WASHINGTON – The president suggested he would hold off introducing his own immigration bill as long as bipartisan Senate negotiations were proceeding apace – until his own immigration bill mysteriously leaked precisely as bipartisan Senate negotiations were proceeding apace.

A naked political maneuver and a blunt warning to Republicans: Finish that immigration deal in Congress or I'll propose something I know you can't accept – and flog the issue mercilessly next year to win back the House.

John McCain responded (correctly) that President Obama was creating a “cudgel” to gain “political advantage in the next election.” Marco Rubio, a chief architect of the Senate bill, called Obama's alternative dead on arrival.

They doth protest quite a lot. Especially because on the single most important issue – instant amnesty – there is no real difference between the proposals.

Rubio calls it “probationary legal status.” Obama uses the term “lawful prospective immigrant.” But both would instantly legalize the 11 million illegal immigrants living here today. The moment either bill is signed, the 11 million become eligible for legal residence, the right to work and relief from the prospect of deportation.

Their life in the shadows is over, which is what matters to them above all. Call the status probationary or prospective but, in reality, it is permanent. There is no conceivable circumstance (short of criminality) under which the instant legalization would be revoked.

This is bad policy. It repeats the 1986 immigration reform that legalized (the then) 3 million while promising border enforcement – which was never carried out. Which opened the door to today's 11 million. And to the next 11 million as soon as the ink is dry on this reform.

The better policy would be enforcement first, followed by amnesty. Yes, amnesty. But only when we have assured that these 11 million constitute the last cohort.

How to assure that? With three obvious enforcement measures: (a) a universal E-Verify system by which employers must check the legal status of all their hires, (b) an effective system for tracking those who have overstayed their visas, and © closure of the southern border, mainly with the kind of triple fence that has proved so successful near San Diego.

If legalization would go into effect only when these conditions are met, there would be overwhelming bipartisan pressure to get enforcement done as quickly as possible.

Regrettably, there appears to be zero political will to undertake this kind of definitive solution. Democrats have little real interest in border enforcement. They see a rising Hispanic population as the key to a permanent Democratic majority. And Republicans are so panicked by last year's loss of the Hispanic vote by 44 points that they have conceded instant legalization. As in the Rubio proposal.

Hence Rubio's fallback. He at least makes enforcement the trigger for any normalization beyond legalization. Specifically, enforcement is required before the 11 million can apply for a green card.

A green card is surely a much weaker enforcement incentive than is legalization. But it still is something. Obama's proposal, on the other hand, obliterates any incentive for enforcement.

Obama makes virtually automatic the eventual acquisition of a green card and citizenship by today's 11 million. The clock starts on the day the bill is signed: eight years for a green card, five more for citizenship. It doesn't matter if the border is flooded with millions of new illegal immigrants (anticipating yet the next amnesty). The path to citizenship is irreversible, rendering enforcement irrelevant.

As for Obama's enforcement measures themselves, they are largely mere gestures: increased funding for border control, more deportation judges, more indeterminate stretching of a system that has already demonstrably failed. (Hence today's 11 million.) Except for the promise of an eventual universal E-Verify system, it is nothing but the appearance of motion.

And remember: Non-implementation of any of this has no effect on the path to full citizenship anyway. The Rubio proposal at least creates some pressure for real enforcement because green card acquisition does not take place until the country finally verifies that its borders are under its control. True, a far weaker incentive than requiring enforcement before legalization. But that fight appears to be totally lost.

In the end, the only remaining vessel for enforcement is the Rubio proposal. It is deeply flawed and highly imperfect. But given that the Obama alternative effectively signs away America's right to decide who enters the country, the choice between the two proposals on the table today is straightforward.

© 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group

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9 Comments

HP in Kalispell, MT said:

I repeat what I told Sen McCain in 2007, "Close the border. Then talk to me about amnesty, donations, or votes." So far, NOTHING has changed. If the GOP wants 11 million more Dem voters, keep going as they are. Since they don't listen to me they obviously don't want my vote.

Friday, February 22, 2013 at 12:38 AM

Merry in Cave Creek, AZ said:

11 million is a bogus number. I live in AZ and before that in CA, therefore I can make that statement with all confidence.

Friday, February 22, 2013 at 1:27 AM

HP in Kalispell, MT replied:

Merry,

I know. I suspect it is closer to 20M. I lived south of Tucson until I retired. I used to watch the trains coming up from Mexico full of new Fords and illegal rail riders hanging on the backs of the train cars.

Friday, February 22, 2013 at 12:06 PM

Mindblown in Flyover USA said:

Here's a thought: We already have immigration laws on the books -- ENFORCE THEM!!

1. Close the border, build the fence.
2. Let ICE do its job -- deport anyone found here illegally. Yes, we can. I don't really care how long they've been here. It only means our laws haven't been enforced not that they've been sooooo good.
3. Forget the "Anchor Baby" crap. The 14th Amendment specifically says that the parents have to be "under the jurisdiction" of this country. If they're here illegally they are NOT "under the jurisdiction". Time to revisit that interpretation.
4. NO AMNESTY.

I'm sick and tired of the BS coming out of DC by both parties. We don't need any more stinkin' rules. Enforce the ones we have then we can talk.

Friday, February 22, 2013 at 12:08 PM

corvettegeorge in Santa Ana, CA replied:

Totally agree with the above!

Monday, February 25, 2013 at 2:43 AM

Orf in Pittsburgh said:

I'm tired of Dr. K slowly morphing into a RINO. He says if we have to choose one of two rotten apples, then pick the one with the fewest maggots. No thanks and NO AMNESTY no matter what name you want to call it.

I am also tired of hearing how we cannot enforce the law and send back the millions of illegals. I don't even see them trying, for God's sake! This is not rocket science. It's a form of mock defeatism intended to quell the bleating sheeple. The political leaders are corrupt and working for the big businesses who pay them the most to get reelected. How can we force term limits?

Friday, February 22, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Tex Horn in Texas said:

Orf, want to know how to force term limits? Read "Term Limits" by Vince Flynn. He proposes a way in this book of fiction. but, it would take the cooperation of former and current members of the Armed Forces and the CIA. But, they appear to have already sold out to this administration.

Friday, February 22, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Orf in Pittsburgh replied:

So how do we get the military and CIA to get busy? I think the problem with that solution is that the military take an oath to obey their commanders and the Commander-in-Chief. They would need a good reason to break this oath. We see they have one but maybe they don't view it as we do.

Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

When will our people in Congress and the liberal idiots understand the term illegal means it is against the law? Every person in this country illegally is a lawbreaker and should be treated no different than anyone else who has broken the laws of this country. They are not "out of status" as that senile idiot John Conyers says, nor are they immigrants in any form of the term. Illegal lawbreakers who would be deported in any other country are put in prison. DEPORT NOW!

Friday, February 22, 2013 at 8:11 PM