June 10, 2006


The Coming Immigration Deal: Congress will follow the polls (Jeffrey Bell, 06/19/2006, Weekly Standard)

THE POLITICS OF IMMIGRATION REFORM changed on March 27. That's the day the Senate Judiciary Committee approved (in a vote of 12-6) an immigration reform bill that included increased border security and law enforcement, a guest-worker program, and a path to legalization for the roughly 12 million illegals who live in the United States.

Almost immediately, polling on the immigration issue shifted toward the pro-immigrant side. Specifically, when voters were asked whether they favor "enforcement only" (like the bill passed by the House in late 2005), a guest-worker program only, or a bill similar to the Senate bill that embodied both these elements and legalization, they overwhelmingly favored the Senate approach. This polling pattern has not changed significantly in the weeks since late March--weeks that included floor debate and Senate passage (by 62-36) of the Martinez-Hagel bill, which resembles the Judiciary bill reported to the floor on March 27. [...]

What, then, are the parameters of public opinion? Though most people at most times in most countries are at the very least nervous about a massive inflow of foreigners, Americans are of all nationalities the least nervous. We have more experience with immigrants than any other nation. Almost all of our voters are descended from immigrants, and most American voters believe most immigrants come for good reasons--to work and to enjoy our higher level of political and economic freedoms.

What voters do not like is an immigration system that increasingly relies on, and winks at, breaking the law. Voters never liked this, but they became especially unfavorable to it after 9/11. They want greater control of our borders, and more enforcement of immigration laws inside our borders.

Political elites, Republican and Democratic alike, often seem to operate on the assumption that voters are either pro-immigrant or pro-enforcement, but not both. In fact, most voters see no contradiction between the two. Nor is there a huge difference between rank-and-file Republicans and rank-and-file Democrats. Solid, but by no means unanimous, majorities in each party favor both immigration--including a path to legalization for those already here--and increased enforcement of immigration laws.

According to Ed Goeas, a pro-immigration pollster who works mainly for conservative Republican candidates, that has been true for many years. Goeas has a special right to his opinion: In polling for the Manhattan Institute, he predicted months in advance that once a comprehensive immigration reform was on the table--which happened on March 27--comprehensive reform would become the most popular policy choice in the electorate.

Another surprising Goeas finding is that Republican primary voters--not activists, but primary voters--are likely to react unfavorably to a candidate who comes across as anti-immigration or as favoring a purely punitive approach toward immigrants. This may account for some GOP primaries in recent years where a front-runner in a race for an open House seat--e.g., State Rep. Carl Isett in Texas 19 in 2003 and State Sen. Rico Oller in California 3 in 2004--go down to an upset defeat following a decision to make anti-immigration the centerpiece of radio and/or TV advertising.

One of the most serious ways in which the nativists miscalculate the American people is their belief that even though the country's religious leaders -- from George W. Bush to the Catholic Church -- have made a moral case for immigration people will still reflexively oppose it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 10, 2006 9:25 PM

I was an immigrant, but I came here legally and did not break any immigration law. As an American citizen, if you break a law, you are either pusnished, fined or imprisoned. If you came here as an illigal immigrant, you broke the law of immigration. You should not be rewarded for breaking a law. It would just be like rewarding a traffic violator.

We are a nation of laws and we should adhere to that. Other wise, we are not following what the constitution states about law breakers.

Even government officials who find themselves in trouble with the law have to resign from office.

Posted by: Bart M Cajas at June 10, 2006 11:50 PM

We are certainly not a nation of these laws, which are racist, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish remnants of a dark time.

Posted by: oj at June 11, 2006 12:36 AM

Bart, while I agree that people shouldn't be rewarded for breaking the law, I also think that justice must be laced with a big dollop of mercy. The law of the land in mid 18th century Paris, the intellectual center of the world, was jail and worse for stealing bread to feed ones starving children. It's unlikely that you would be willing to enforce that law.

You may say, then we must change the law rather than let those unfortunate Americans who were born in the wrong country be hounded and sent back to their former hopeless existence. In this I agree completely.

President Bush must very carefully finesse those like you, who understandably oppose any kind of "amnesty" and those like me, a daughter of immigrants, who welcome with open arms my fellow Americans who want to come home. Somewhere between us will lie a solution that will please nobody and displease everybody and so will be an equitable compromise.

Posted by: erp at June 11, 2006 8:35 AM

We are certainly not a nation of these laws, which are racist, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish remnants of a dark time.

This, of course, is called Judd-icial nullification.

here's the USCIS page on the history of immigration legislation. As you can see, the very first legislation was in 1790, which means that Americans, through their elected officials, determined who could and could not be Americans, and how, for over two hundred years.

Mercy, to be truly mercy, must be given to those already found guilty, and ipso-facto undeserving of it. On the giving side, it must be unconstrained: acting illegally, banking on the good nature of the offended party to escape a *reasonable and just punishment*, is presumption and not deserving of mercy. Certainly, erp, the penalty for stealing bread in France was excessive, but stealing bread IS stealing nonetheless. Even the Proverbs states that those who do so, while not blamed, must still pay the penalty.

Posted by: Ptah at June 12, 2006 3:08 PM

Yes, they were blessedly honest then--Benjamin Franklin and company made no bones about immigration restrictions being a racist imperative.

Posted by: oj at June 12, 2006 3:12 PM