The Left often bills the Republican Party – the (legitimate) Tea Party, especially – as the “Party of No.” In many cases, this is a much more positive accusation than the Left portends it to be. Saying “no” to more taxes, to more government intrusion into our private lives, to misguided military ventures overseas, etc. is in fact a sign of virtue, not of vice. As long as Republicans are obstructing our nation’s steady march toward socialism, the Left’s smear of “obstructionism” should be worn as a badge of honor.
However, what is true on some issues is not true for all of them. This is not simply a matter of “you cannot beat someone with no one,” meaning that the GOP should couple its “nos” with positive explanations of its opposition and of free market alternatives. In some instances, saying “no” hinders efforts to produce a capitalist government and perpetuates a system in which individual rights are abused by the state. There are several issues for which the GOP can be criticized on that point, but the one that has received the most attention in recent weeks is that of immigration.
Immigration is one of the GOP’s greatest political Achilles’s heels. The principles of a free market require that individuals be free to seek shelter and employment across borders, pursing their rational self-interests without undue inhibition. (Note: the host country running background checks on potential immigrants before permitting them to enter the country would be a reasonable policy, as it fulfills the host country’s obligation to protect its own citizenry.) Getting the GOP to think and argue in such principled terms is already a Herculean struggle, but in this case, the GOP’s intellectual failings – and those of its voting constituency – are virtually unfathomable.
Even if the GOP did not approach the issue from the perspective of free market principles (which it does not), it takes but a shred of rational thought to acknowledge and to accept that our nation’s immigration system is fundamentally flawed and in need of a legislative reevaluation. However, the GOP does not appear to have so much as recognized the problem at hand. Certainly, the average anti-immigration Republican will provide a list of problems as they see it, but their complaints tend to focus upon the immigrants themselves or upon what they perceive as a lack of enforcement of existing immigration laws.
Time and time again, the cry rings out from across the Republican Party’s base, “Enforce existing laws!” What such Republicans fail to see is that doing so is simply impossible, because the existing laws are the very reason that our nation now finds itself in its present mess on our southern border and beyond. And by mess, I do not mean the immigrants themselves – I mean the national security mess in which we do not know who is within our borders, I mean the fiscal mess in which we continue to waste money on ineffectual policies, and I mean the moral mess in which the rights of millions of individuals – both immigrant and native citizen – are being violated.
The laws themselves are the problem, and the laws need changing. The anti-immigrant wing of the GOP, undeterred, lashes out vehemently against any notion of altering the immigration laws (likely because they are well aware that if an alteration occurs, it will favor a freer, simpler system). Even the phrase “comprehensive immigration reform” – still a far cry from that most dreaded term “amnesty” – has become toxic among GOP ranks. Any reform short of simply throwing more money at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Border Patrol is simply shouted down and halted in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
On the amnesty point in particular, the anti-immigration voices within the GOP are particularly worthy of scorn. They insist that, even if the laws wereare reformed, those who entered this country by breaking the then-defunct laws should be punished – either through incarceration or deportation. Not only is this a ridiculously unrealistic proposition, as it suggests the incarceration or deportation of roughly three percent of our nation’s current population (the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that about 11 million people are in the US without documentation). It also requires that people be punished under what a legislative change has already determined to be a bad law. This is essentially the same as temperance supporters demanding, post-prohibition, that those guilty of drinking alcohol under prohibition should be punished as if the laws were still in effect.
To them, granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants is “rewarding” them for having broken the law, when in reality it is merely an acknowledgment that the law itself was wrong and that no real crime occurred in breaking it. Provided that the same individuals then abide by the new laws, there would be no legitimate reason to punish them.
Regardless, the anti-immigration faction of the GOP is not likely to be swayed by any rational argument, as it is driven by a deep-seated, national collectivism. Under such an ideology, whether someone is welcome in this country is determined by the piece of geography on which that person is born. Unfortunately, this faction will continue to determine the Republican Party’s position on immigration for the foreseeable future.
However, the fault is not entirely that of the anti-immigration components of the GOP. Much of the fault lies with the few individuals actually who are encouraging their party to reassess its stance on immigration reform. These voices – mostly from the GOP’s crumbling Old Guard – make the case so poorly that it actually turns potentially sympathetic minds off to the message, largely because the “pro-immigration” segment of the GOP cares very little about immigration. Most address the issue because they think it is “popular,” because they think it will help them win votes – another variant of the same unprincipled pragmatism guiding the centrist wing of the GOP.
Worse, many of such voices hope to make their case by appealing to their constituents’ ignorance, calling amnesty “probation” and hoping that they will not be seriously challenged on that point. (There is a nuance there, but not a significant enough one when the overall issue is whether or not undocumented persons will be permitted to stay in the country or not.) Incidentally, the same column suggesting the change in terminology also spares no expense in pointing to a “consortium of ten GOP pollsters” that found broad support for immigration reform, returning to the notion that the GOP should merely adopt immigration reform to win votes rather than because it is morally correct.
Unfortunately, there is no strong, principled voice advocating for immigration reform within the Republican Party – not an identifiable one. For the time being, it is up to intellectuals outside of politics to foster a culture in which such a voice may arise. Until one does, the Republican Party will continue to be on the wrong side of this issue, and our nation’s immigration system will remain broken.