On June 19, 41 conservative intellectuals and civic leaders released an open letter
on immigration calling for “enforcement first” by declaring that “border and interior enforcement must be funded, operational, implemented, and proven successful—and only then can we debate the status of current illegal immigrants, or the need for new guest worker programs.” The signers included Newt Gingrich, William Bennett, Thomas Sowell, Robert Bork, Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz, Ward Connerly, NR
’s William F Buckley, Rich Lowry, and John O’Sullivan, and NRO
’s Kathryn Lopez and Jonah Goldberg, among others.
An implicit challenge to the “enforcement first” letter came on July 10 when a counter-group of 33 conservatives issued a statement in the Wall Street Journal
entitled “Enforcement Isn’t Enough.” This counter-letter
was organized by Tamar Jacoby and Cesar Conda. The signers included Jack Kemp, George Schultz, Grover Norquist, William Kristol, Jeff Bell, Linda Chavez, Steve Forbes, and Max Boot. It was promoted by the White House public-affairs office.
As an organizer of the “Enforcement First” letter I will sketch out a few thoughts on this challenge from our fellow conservatives.
The “comprehensive solution” favored by the signatories of this counter-letter, which allegedly “includes border security, interior enforcement, a guest worker program and status [citizenship] for the illegal immigrants already here,” is tantamount to endorsement for the mostly Democratic Senate bill with, as the letter casually puts it, a few “things that need fixing.”
Unfortunately, the letter’s principal argument rests on the false premise that the Senate bill strengthens enforcement. According to University of Missouri law professor Kris W. Kobach, former attorney general John Ashcroft’s chief advisor on immigration law from 2001-03, the Senate bill would actually weaken the War on Terror. Testifying before the House, Professor Kobach argued that, under the provisions of the Hagel-Martinez (a.k.a. Reid-Kennedy) version of the bill, local police would be restricted from arresting people for civil violations of immigration law. He pointed out that five of the 9/11 hijackers had in fact committed these civil violations, but if, for example, they were stopped for speeding (as four of the terrorists were) local police could be prevented, under the provisions of this law, from checking their immigration status. The result, argued Professor Kobach , would be nothing less than “disastrous,” and “would significantly undermine the United States in the war on terrorism.”
And forget border fences: According to Professor Kobach, not only does the Senate bill limit its scope, but, incredibly, it requires U.S. officials to “consult” with both the Mexican government and the “the affected communities” (i.e., open-borders activists) before even being permitted to proceed. In effect, a foreign government and a vocal minority would have power to delay the type of security arrangements deemed necessary to protect the border of the United States.
But it gets worse. Less than two months after authorizing these security barriers in the Hagel-Martinez legislation, the Senate killed Senator Sessions’s amendment to appropriate funds for them—thus erasing any illusion that the supporters of the so-called “comprehensive” solution are at all serious about enforcement.
Indeed, the very definition of what constitutes a “comprehensive solution” is flawed insofar as it refers only to an increase in the labor supply, ignoring the core issues of assimilation. To be sure there is a tepid reference to Americanizing newcomers, “conservatives must stand strong in favor of assimilation.” Learning English, U.S. history, and values are duly noted. What is left out is a sense of any urgency and how difficult the challenge truly is.
For as the signers of the counter-letter well know, American national identity has been under assault for decades from an anti-assimilation agenda that includes bilingual ballots, bilingual education, group preferences for new immigrants, and dual-allegiance citizenship (e.g., a naturalized U.S. citizen was just elected to the Mexican Congress last week, for the first time). A truly “comprehensive” approach would fight to address these anti-assimilation measures—here and now—before
endorsing a Senate bill that vastly increases immigration. To their credit, some of the signers of the counter-letter have fought for (not just talked about) assimilation (Clint Bolick, Linda Chavez), but many continue to prevaricate, and pander to the aptly named National Council of The Race (“La Raza”).
Seemingly nodding to popular opinion, the counter-letter observes that “in poll after poll” the American public favors a “comprehensive” approach. That all depends on what poll you choose to quote; it certainly runs counter to the results of a Rasmussen poll—in which 67 percent believe the U.S. should enforce existing laws and control the border “before new reforms are considered”—and a Zogby poll, according to which Americans prefer the House provisions to the Senate bill by a whopping 2 to 1 majority (64 percent to 30 percent).
The pro-Senate results of the polls cited by the counter-letter are in all likelihood the result of suggestions, implicit in the questioning, to the effect that “comprehensive” reform involves “tough requirements”—notably, the claim that illegal immigrants must “pay all back taxes” and “go to the back of the line” on citizenship. False again. Actually, the Senate legislation provides that former illegal immigrants would have to pay no more than three of five years’ back taxes—a privilege denied to the rest of us. What is more, they are allowed to form a new line for citizenship, ahead of people who are already waiting legally in their home countries.
The counter-letter touts the old Bracero program as a successful model for limiting illegal immigration. But, as U.C. Davis professor Phil Martin testified before the House on July 19, during the 22 year (1942-1964) Bracero program “some 4.6 million Mexicans were legally admitted, but over 5.3 million were apprehended demonstrating that even a large guest worker program can be accompanied by larger illegal migration.” Thus, the counter-letter fails to note that illegal immigration actually increased during the Bracero program.
Surprisingly, the counter-letter begins by posing the question: “What side of history do conservatives want to be on?” We are told that the economy “demands” and “history teaches” that “the only way to control immigration” is a “comprehensive solution” (the Senate approach). Thus, the philosophical foundation of the counter-letter rests on the premise that there is an impersonal force called “history” to which Americans must submit and, apparently, scurry to get on the “right side” of. This represents a quasi-Marxist (and fatalist) mindset rather than a conservative (or liberal) one. How did the one or two Straussians, who signed the counter-letter, miss this historicist cant?
Indeed, from the beginnings of our democratic republic, Americans have rejected the determinist thinking presented in the counter-letter. In the very first paragraph of Federalist No 1
, Alexander Hamilton wrote that our experiment in self-government would test “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend . . . upon accident and force.”
No less surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal
, in the same editorial that promotes the counter-letter, argues that the philosophy of “open immigration” and “flexible labor markets” is “at a fundamental level” a “matter of freedom and human dignity.” Thus, the Wall Street Journal states
: “These migrants are freely contracting for their labor, which is a basic human right.”
Well, there you have it. An influential voice in the conservative movement believes, apparently in all sincerity, that illegal immigrants have “a basic human right” to work in the United States, contrary to the laws and, hence, the wishes of the American people. So much for “government by consent of the governed.” Apparently, as far as the Journal
is concerned, a “flexible labor market” trumps democratic self-government. The signers of the counter-letter should come clean and tell us whether they agree. This is an issue conservatives should clarify now, before passing any immigration legislation or heading into the elections of 2006 and 2008. Do we stand for American self-government or not?This article appeared in the
National Review Online on July 25, 2006.