Tag Archives: politics

Executive Action, Not Legislative Reform, Is How U.S. Immigration Policy Gets Made Now

Last Thursday, President Obama announced several measures to liberalize U.S. immigration policy by executive action. First is an expansion of the program initiated in 2012 which gave quasi-legal status to undocumented youth, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The age limit for qualification for DACA has been removed, and the date before which an applicant must prove he or she entered the U.S. has been moved from 2007 to 2010. DACA-style benefits will also be extended to undocumented parents of U.S. citizen or permanent resident children who have been in the U.S. since January 1, 2010, and have not been convicted of certain crimes. This new program for parents will be called Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). The White House estimates that these two reforms, along with an expansion of waivers for family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are currently ineligible for green cards and reforms to certain employment visas, will protect about five million people from deportation. That’s in addition to the nearly 600,000 who have already benefited from the DACA program.

Vivek Wadhwa believes the changes to employment visa processing will be good for immigrants and tech companies that rely on immigrant labor. Prerna Lal and Dara Lind both posted helpful summaries of the deferred action programs.

Applications for DAPA will not be accepted for another six months. The Department of Homeland Security concurrently made changes to its guidelines on enforcement priorities which will become effective in January. The new guidelines will penalize recent entrants and those convicted of certain crimes, while deprioritizing people who had been deported and reentered the U.S. prior to 2014.

As Dara Lind noted, DACA was an improvement over earlier failed prosecutorial discretion initiatives because the program “has demonstrated that formalized protections work much better than vague promises.” Like DACA and Temporary Protected Status, a type of executive humanitarian relief, once granted, DAPA is unlikely to be taken away. The government emphasizes that deferred action is completely discretionary and can be revoked at any time and for any reason. In practice, it is very unlikely that President Obama would rescind or significantly restrict these discretionary programs once they are implemented. It is harder to take something away than to never grant it in the first place. DACA beneficiaries have been able to come out of the shadows, integrating into communities, making their status known to more people, and becoming more active politically. While excluded from the franchise, the moral power they possess as victims of systemic oppression amplifies their voices. It will be difficult politically for Congress or an antagonistic president to rescind DACA or DAPA in the foreseeable future. Any presidential candidate who runs on a promise to rescind the programs will lose the Latino vote by a large margin, effectively dooming his or her candidacy. These programs are here to stay and will hopefully be expanded further.

The deferred action program has serious flaws.

President Obama’s announcement fell far short of what activists had hoped for. The DAPA program excludes parents of DACA beneficiaries. The program leaves out anyone who has already been deported and prioritizes enforcement against those who try to come back to rejoin their families in the future. The president’s “Felons, not families” messaging is a slap in the face of communities of color targeted by an unjust criminal justice system. Queer immigrants are less likely to have U.S.-born children than hetero immigrants and hence less likely to qualify for the program, and agricultural workers were not included.

The number of DAPA beneficiaries will likely be much lower than projected. A good rule of thumb is to divide by half the projected number of beneficiaries to get the true number. 1.2 million people are purportedly eligible for protection under DACA, but after two and a half years, fewer than 600,000 have actually navigated the process successfully. This is due to the difficulty of documenting presence when one is undocumented, high filing fees, disqualification for minor criminal convictions, lack of reliable legal services, and ingrained distrust of the government.

DACA applicants have advantages in navigating the system that many older immigrants don’t have: most speak English and have been able to access information and resources online. But even many undocumented youth have been unable to apply for DACA or have had applications denied, though they are technically eligible for the program, because they have been unable to prove physical presence in the U.S. I expect this to be an even bigger factor with parents, since they will not have school records, as many DACA applicants did. It can be difficult to document your life when you are undocumented, but that is what the government requires. Many people have been living in a way so as to escape detection. Many have been unable to open a bank account, get a loan, buy a car, get health care, or do any number of things that middle class citizens take for granted that would create a paper trail. Now the government wants ironclad proof that applicants were here since a date certain, and too often begins with the assumption that evidence presented is fraudulent.

Whether it is acknowledged or not, the Department of Homeland Security’s primary mandate is to deport people. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the agency within DHS tasked with adjudicating DACA and DAPA applications. When reviewing applications, USCIS too often looks for reasons to deny rather than reasons to approve. The pattern with this administration has been to announce a policy reform that is supposed to benefit the undocumented community. By the time the policy is implemented, the cameras have turned away and DHS reverts to norm, denying applications for lack of evidence or using discretion against rather in favor of an applicant.

The DAPA program will exclude a large number of people with criminal convictions regardless of family ties or length of presence in the U.S. Convictions that might result in minor penalties for citizens, like a first-time DUI offense, categorically disqualify potential applicants. A third misdemeanor offense of any kind is a ground of ineligibility, which will screen out some undocumented activists who have participated in multiple civil disobedience actions.

In addition, as Dara Lind points out, for political reasons, the government may send contradictory messages about the program to applicants: “that they should apply now because the program is safe, but that it could be taken away at any time” by Republicans. This may discourage people from applying, especially since this president has deported more noncitizens than any other.

In all, I estimate that only two to three million people will be approved under the DAPA program, far below the five million projected by the White House. This may undercut the political benefits meant to accrue to Democrats as the shortcomings of the system once again come to the fore.

While the new programs are a flawed and partial remedy, and will make things worse for some people, obtaining benefits under the programs will be life-changing for many people. They will be able to work legally and live without fear of immediate deportation. They will become more visible and further integrated into their communities.

So, under these conditions, what can we expect going forward?

Deportations are likely to continue at a historically high rate.

The federal government is likely to continue deporting large numbers of people because DHS’s new enforcement priorities still cover more than enough people to maintain ICE’s existing deportation quota of about 400,000 per year. Unnecessary imprisonment of noncitizens will continue as the so-called bed mandate remains in place, which DHS construes to require it to imprison 34,000 immigrants at any given time for civil immigration violations. Operation Streamline, the federal program to criminally prosecute, jail, and deport immigrants crossing the border, is still in place. Many of those convicted through Operation Streamline were arrested while trying to rejoin families in the U.S., and now face 20-year or, in some cases, lifetime bars on returning to the U.S.

The new enforcement priorities escalate the government’s punitive response to refugees fleeing violence and corruption in Central America. The administration is going ahead with plans to construct the largest immigration prison in the country, primarily to jail refugee women and children until they can be deported. The president’s initiative calls for 20,000 additional border officers, though the mechanism for funding those officers is not yet clear to me.

The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel itself estimates that deportations will not significantly slow after the new policies are implemented:

[W]hile the potential size of the program is large, it is nevertheless only a fraction of the approximately 11 million undocumented aliens who remain in the United States each year because DHS lacks the resources to remove them; and, as we have indicated, the program is limited to individuals who would be unlikely to be removed under DHS’s proposed prioritization policy. There is thus little practical danger that the program, simply by virtue of its size, will impede removals that would otherwise occur in its absence.

Mark Noferi of the American Immigration Council notes that deportation numbers may remain high due to an increased use of expedited removal at or near (within 100 miles of) the border and the high-by-historical-standards levels of funding for immigration enforcement.

Given the low percentage of people I expect to successfully complete the process, seven to eight million undocumented people will likely still be in limbo, at varying degrees of risk of deportation. The deportation machine has been built and is running smoothly. It won’t disappear just because the president has placed some people off limits. DHS may now go after those who are not protected more aggressively than before.

Political divisions around immigration will become more entrenched.

The political dynamics that pushed the president to announce the deferred action measures are likely to persist. Legislative reforms are not on the horizon, and additional discretionary measures will be the only viable form of relief for the foreseeable future. The polarization and political salience of immigration policy will only deepen.

After the 2012 general election, I had begun to believe predictions that demographic changes in the electorate would inevitably lead to broad legalization relatively soon. Given the demands of the two-year election cycle, House Republicans might succumb to the temptation to demagogue immigrants. But, the thinking went, more reasonable voices in the GOP would prevail as the party looked ahead to 2016 and the prospect of failing to win the White House and the Senate. I read with interest Tim Dickinson’s analysis of Karl Rove’s political strategy in 2010 of winning state legislatures in order to reshape House districts more favorably for Republicans. Dickinson and others predicted that the strategy of spreading GOP voters among a larger number of districts–turning more districts red, but a lighter shade of red–would eventually backfire as the proportion of Democratic voters grew and turned the districts blue again. However, others rebutted this theory, arguing that the concentration of Democratic voters in urban districts, combined with the increased polarization of the electorate, provides Republicans with a structural advantage in the House that could forestall demographic electoral benefits to Democrats in that chamber for many years.

The Democrats’ demographic weaknesses in midterm elections become strengths in presidential elections. In elections where there is a high percentage of Latino voters and a sharp distinction between candidates on immigration policy, Democrats hold the advantage. This held true for Harry Reid in 2010 and President Obama in 2012. By announcing and implementing the new deferred action programs, the president may have secured the White House for the Democrats again in 2016. Arguably, this was the only way not to lose it.

GOP base voters, who are older and whiter than the electorate as a whole, view the demographic changes brought on by the liberalization of immigration laws in 1965 as an existential threat to the party and the country. They will not willingly compromise on this issue, and will punish Republican candidates who do not take a hard line. The base has now defined amnesty as any liberalization of immigration policy. While the GOP establishment beat Tea Party candidates in most cases this election cycle, the exceptions, such as Eric Cantor’s surprise primary loss to restrictionist-leaning David Brat, pushed even mainstream candidates far to the right on immigration policy. GOP Senate candidates Scott Brown and Tom Cotton ran on the urgent, yet mythical, threat of Ebola and ISIS overrunning the southern border. This in turn pushed Democratic politicians to take ridiculous positions, such as Kentucky Senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s accusation that Mitch McConnell had supported amnesty. Even one-time children’s rights advocate Hillary Clinton urged the government to deport refugee children who had crossed the border.

I believe that the GOP’s populist base will push the party to fight broad legalization until the party is overwhelmed by brute electoral force generated by the demographic tipping point as nonwhites become a majority in the U.S. This tipping point may be the most momentous political event in the U.S. in the coming decades, aside from possibly climate change. I believe immigration policy will track that broader demographic event. Until the political environment acknowledges the changing demographics (which, given California’s experience, should precede the actual demographic tipping point), individual GOP politicians will find political benefit–really, political survival–in opposing the legalization of undocumented immigrants.

But by opposing legalization, Republicans will find it very difficult to win national elections. The Latino electorate is growing each year, while the proportion of white voters shrinks. Immigration policy is a highly-salient issue for many Latino voters. The strategy of some Republicans will be to oppose the deferred action programs while claiming to support legislative legalization. GOP candidates who take this position will likely face primary challenges from the right. Meanwhile, many Latino voters will oppose any candidate who threatens to rescind the programs. This dynamic places the national GOP at a disadvantage, while also creating a hostile environment for comprehensive immigration reform.

If it’s true, as Talking Points Memo proposes, that Democrats won’t be able to win the House back until at least 2022, and the GOP views legalization of undocumented immigrants as an existential threat, then the U.S. may not see broad legislative legalization for another eight years or more.

Further reforms are likely to come from the executive before they come from Congress.

Because there are many shortcomings with the new executive measures and deportations may continue at a high rate, many immigrant rights activists will continue to criticize the president’s deportation record. In fact, some undocumented activists interrupted the president during his speech announcing the program in Las Vegas to ask why he left their parents out. The administration’s response to both pro and anti-migrant critics has been “pass a bill.” However, because of the factors I described above, it is unlikely that Congress will pass a bill in the next several years. This is why the most likely avenue for further expansion of immigrant rights in the U.S. is through further executive action from President Obama or the next president.

I hope to see more immigration civil rights litigation in the courts, which have historically been an important part of civil rights advances. However, the courts move slowly, and Congress and the president have for years strengthened the immigration system’s immunity to attack in the courts.

The legal justification for the deferred action programs rests in the ample discretion of the executive in matters of immigration and foreign policy. The president may have regretted his claim last year that he had no authority to stop deportations beyond the DACA program. The White House took greater care this time to insulate itself from future demands to expand the deferred action programs, but it is already being asked to do just that. The White House took the unusual step of making public the memo from the Office of Legal Counsel setting out the legal arguments for the DAPA program and against expanding the program to parents of DACA beneficiaries. The latter argument rests on dubious legal grounds that would have also precluded the initial DACA program. The OLC memo may cause the president or his successor problems down the road, as organizers pressure them to expand deferred action to parents of undocumented youth.

The increasing convergence and formalization of prosecutorial discretion immigration policies makes them more vulnerable to challenge by opponents. Offloading immigration policy into the realm of discretion is a function of the increased power of the executive vis-a-vis Congress, growing political polarization, and an immigration regime widely seen as morally illegitimate. Prosecutorial discretion works for immigrants when the president feels magnanimous, but not when he is the Deporter In Chief.

Oppressed people draw moral power from the fact of their oppression. Even before the DACA program was announced, “undocumented and undeportable” organizers had carved out a safe space for themselves by coming out publicly, fighting deportation defense campaigns for their peers, and staging civil disobedience actions. Changes in immigration policy reflect and reinforce changes in norms, as the line between documented and undocumented has become more and more blurry. “Illegal means illegal” is no longer a useful or even accurate catch phrase. This incremental, quasi-legal progress may provide a template for immigration liberalization in other assimilationist countries. It’s a type of adverse possession: physical presence eventually leads to legal rights based on moral considerations.

However, as is becoming more clear with respect to DACA beneficiaries, the deferred action programs also represent a step towards formal recognition of an underclass of workers who are legally, indefinitely excluded from full participation in U.S. society. This should remind U.S. citizens of the country’s shameful legacy of state-sanctioned stigmatization and exploitation of disfavored groups.

The promise of legislative legalization has eluded advocates for at least 15 years. Executive relief will likely be the only viable form of formal protection for undocumented immigrants for the next several years. Claims that Obama can’t expand deferred action further will ring hollow, given that he said the same thing about the programs he just announced. Activists and advocates would do well to remember how unreliable both major political parties have been and how fickle a reform strategy that relies solely on electoral politics can be. Comprehensive immigration reform should not be the sole focus of immigrant rights organizing. Now is the time to escalate action beyond elections and Congress and to utilize unconventional strategies to highlight the moral incongruities of the immigration system. Here are some ideas for action (though the DAPA program makes #7 moot).

The immigration system isn’t broken, it is working as intended. But it needs to be broken; we need to break it. The closed-border immigration system is a key element in a regime of global apartheid that mocks the ideals of justice, equality, and liberty. When we mourn those left out of the most recent reforms, let’s not forget those who’ve already been deported or who never had the chance to leave to pursue a better life.

Image credit: Steve Pavey, Portland Occupier

Conservative parties can win over immigrants: the Canadian story

I’ve suggested before that although the US Republican Party’s position amongst immigrant communities in the US seems weak, that is not reason to assume this will always be the case for the foreseeable future. I recently stumbled across an interesting 2010 profile of Jason Kenney, the Conservative politician who currently is the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism. (If you are having a hard time imagining that a Republican could ever fill an equivalently-titled office in the US, perhaps you have a clue as to why the GOP finds it so hard to penetrate immigrant communities.)

Kenney first assumed responsibility for immigrant outreach in 2006. He found that although he was able to cite numerous Conservative policy successes that helped immigrants settle in Canada, this wasn’t convincing to immigrant voters. As it turns out:

“‘You’re a community with famously conservative values. Incredibly hard-working. Entrepreneurial, devotion to family, intolerant to criminality. These sound like our values. Conservative values.'” Why, he asked, weren’t Korean Canadians already turning to the Conservatives?

“One of the guys around the table was the president, believe it or not, of something called the Korean Canadian Evangelical NDP Small Businessmen’s Association. My jaw just about hit the floor. It sounded like the association of the hens for the fox, right?”

What had happened, the guy said, was that when a lot of Koreans settled in Burnaby, B.C., in 1972, there was a New Democrat MP who was simply good at showing up to churches and community events. He helped people with their immigration case files. People got to know him. So when that MP retired and his constituency assistant who’d worked on immigration files inherited the NDP nomination, the Korean evangelical businessmen gave her their support. And so on ever after.

“Thirty-five years of voting history established by a relationship!” Kenney said now, still marvelling. “And the light went off for me. How incredibly important relationships are. It’s blindingly obvious, but for newcomers those initial relationships that they establish are hugely important.”

Sure, these things are symbolic. But as economist Robin Hanson says, politics is not about policy. In a democracy, our elected officials not only govern, but represent us. Say it with me: we vote for people who represent us. As Kenney found, if you don’t even reach out to someone, why would they ever think that you want to represent them? So today, Kenney’s Twitter account is a litany of cultural events:

“Hosted a town hall meeting in Montreal’s Chinatown on how best to combat immigration marriage fraud.” “Had a great encounter with the large & enthusiastic congregation of Notre Dame des Philippines.” “Did roundtable with folks from the Egyptian, Pakistani, Iraqi & other communities to encourage their participation in the PSR [private sponsorship of refugee] program.” “Did a great event with the Montreal Afghan community in support of the superb Conservative candidate in St. Lambert, Qais Hamidi.” “Had one of the best meals I can remember at the Khyber Pass restaurant in Montreal, together with Afghan friends. Highly recommended!”

How easy is it to imagine a similar flurry of Tweets from a Republican politician? (Of course, with US Republicans, their approach to outreach is a little worse than benign neglect: as Muslim blogger Rany Jazyerli has observed, in recent times whenever Republicans have been bragging about attending a Muslim community event, it’s because — to put it politely — they were there to cast doubt on Muslims’ loyalty to the US.)

Of course, Kenney and Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper haven’t been just coasting on doing some goodwill tours — they have proven they walk the talk on immigration policy:

In power they moved quickly to produce legislative change that could prove their bona fides. They cut in half the $975 immigrant right-of-landing fee, introduced by the Chrétien Liberals in 1995 as a deficit-fighting measure, in their first year in office.

They eliminated visa requirements for visitors from eight formerly Communist countries in Europe. Skyrocketing refugee claims from the Czech Republic’s Roma population made Kenney reintroduce visa requirements for that country a year later, but he still counts the move as a net gain. So do many Eastern European Canadians. Wladyslaw Lizon, former head of the Canadian Polish Congress, will be running for the Conservatives in Mississauga East-Cooksville in the next election.

Kenney has also pursued some less liberal measures: some other initiatives of his include restructuring the Canadian skilled worker immigration programme (liberalising in some areas, restricting in others), and pursuing some arbitrary immigration policies (notably, defending his use of discretion to keep British MP George Galloway out of Canada on very tenuous grounds). That he is not an open borders advocate does not make his accomplishments any less impressive, or instructive.

Meanwhile, the same publication which profiled Kenney in 2010 recently did another story on him, with more background behind how he came to be responsible for immigrant outreach, dating back to when, as a 26-year-old activist in 1994, he told Stephen Harper that demographic destiny demanded that the Conservatives, as a matter of survival, win over immigrant communities. This second profile also has more interesting details on Kenney’s immigration policy views, and anecdotes of his continued ability to win over immigrants by understanding how to communicate with them:

  • Advertise in their media, ideally timing to coincide with events with cultural significance like the Cricket World Cup;
  • Learn to speak their languages: the article suggests Kenney has learnt enough Punjabi to understand when a speech is promoting political extremism;
  • And as their representative, recognise what’s important to them: Kenney led the initiative to apologise for past government abuse of Chinese immigrants, and also sought government recognition of certain genocides.

Small things in the greater scheme of it all, but as Kenney’s former chief of staff says: “It might not seem important to the majority of the population, but for the concerned communities, it’s huge.”

There are conceivable reasons to doubt the Republicans can pull off a similar feat as Kenney and the Canadian Conservatives. Some skeptics argue the Conservatives of Canada are barely, if at all, to the right of Democrats in the US. It’s plausible that the median immigrant voter will be more right-leaning than the median Democratic politician, but much much more left-leaning than the median Republican politician. But until the Republicans stop denigrating immigrant communities and start reaching out to them, until they can find their Jason Kenney, it seems rather early to declare that it is all but impossible for them to win over the immigrant vote.

The photo of Jason Kenney in the header of this post is owned by the Policy Exchange, and used under the Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Bleg: four possible positions on immigration and US politics

There are lots of different theories about immigration and its impact on US politics, specifically on how it will affect the power balance between Democrats and Republicans. I am largely agnostic, though I doubt the validity of tipping point arguments. Logically, I can make out four broad positions one can stake on immigration and US politics. I’m curious to hear from readers and co-bloggers about the relative merits of the positions:

  1. Immigration good for Democrats, bad for Republicans regardless of either party’s position on immigration. In other words, even if the Republicans took a pro-immigration stance, more immigration would still hurt them. The electing a new people argument offered by Peter Brimelow of VDARE has this structure. Mark Krikorian of CIS also makes similar arguments. This argument naturally appeals to:
    • Those trying to sell restrictionism to the Republican Party.
    • Those trying to sell pro-immigration policies to the Democratic Party.
  2. Immigration good for Republicans, bad for Democrats regardless of either party’s position on immigration. I don’t know anybody who has taken this position, but I’m adding it for logical completeness. This argument naturally appeals to:
    • Those trying to sell pro-immigration policies to the Republican Party.
    • Those trying to sell restrictionism to the Democratic Party.
  3. Immigration good for whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance: In this view, both parties need to compete to be more pro-immigration, and whichever party manages to be more pro-immigration will benefit more from immigration. This seems to be the view of many open borders advocates and other pro-immigration forces, such as my co-blogger Nathan here and here. This argument naturally appeals to pro-immigration forces trying to simultaneously make inroads into both parties, setting up a “race to open borders” between both parties.
  4. Immigration bad for whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance: In this view, both parties gain from adopting a more restrictionist stance. Restrictionists who are trying to make a broad-based appeal to both parties would find this argument appealing. In this view, the vote of people with restrictionist sympathies matters a lot more than the votes of potential immigrants and their apologists. Thus, whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance will lose a lot more in terms of restrictionist votes, even if they gain a few immigrant votes. Such an argument, if believed, would lead to a “race to closed borders” between both parties. Some restrictionists have made these types of arguments, though they’ve largely focused on (1).

There are a lot of complications that can be added:

  • The story may be different for different subsets of immigrants based on ethnic group, skill level, country of origin, time within the US, etc.
  • It is possible to be pro-immigrant while being anti-immigration. It is also possible to appeal to the interests of immigrants qua ethnic group rather than qua immigrant.
  • It is possible to combined restrictionist rhetoric with a quiet support for more immigration, thus appealing to restrictionists. If you are a pro-Democratic Party person who believes a mix of (1) and (4), you would be tempted to favor apparently restrictionist rhetoric from your Party while quietly allowing for more immigration and more citizenship/amnesty.
  • Similarly, it is possible to combine pro-immigration rhetoric with a quiet support for less immigration, thus appealing to the vote of people who have solidarity with immigrants and favor a pro-immigration stance, while at the same time trying to curtail the growth of immigrant groups who may be hostile to your party. For instance, a pro-Republican Party person who believes a mix of (1) and (3) would be tempted to follow this strategy.

So, which of the stories (1)-(4) is most likely true? Please feel free to provide separate answers for different immigrant groups separated by whatever criteria you prefer, and feel free to incorporate the above complications or any others you can think of.

Charles Krauthammer supports amnesty

My, my, this is getting better and better. Charles Krauthammer is one of the brightest stars in the firmament of conservative punditry. His only advice to the Republicans about how to change in response to the 2012 election is on immigration. And he goes further than I recall a mainstream conservative pundit going before. From “The way forward”:

They lose and immediately the chorus begins. Republicans must change or die. A rump party of white America, it must adapt to evolving demographics or forever be the minority.

The only part of this that is even partially true regards Hispanics. They should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example).

The principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants. In securing the Republican nomination, Mitt Romneymade the strategic error of (unnecessarily) going to the right of Rick Perry. Romney could never successfully tack back.

For the party in general, however, the problem is hardly structural. It requires but a single policy change: Border fence plus amnesty. Yes, amnesty. Use the word. Shock and awe — full legal normalization (just short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement.

I’ve always been of the “enforcement first” school, with the subsequent promise of legalization. I still think it’s the better policy. But many Hispanics fear that there will be nothing beyond enforcement. So, promise amnesty right up front. Secure the border with guaranteed legalization to follow on the day the four border-state governors affirm that illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle.

Imagine Marco Rubio advancing such a policy on the road to 2016. It would transform the landscape. He’d win the Hispanic vote. Yes, win it. A problem fixable with a single policy initiative is not structural. It is solvable.

Hallelujah! Or to use a word with similar connotations of glorious praise and relief: Amnesty! Krauthammer goes on to argue that Republicans should not moderate their views on other issues or become more liberal generally. Music to my ears. I hadn’t expected to agree with a Charles Krauthammer column so much. I hadn’t expected to vote Republican again for decades. “Shock and awe,” indeed.

For the record, I don’t support a border fence, and I don’t think it will “work,” in the sense of stopping illegal immigration. But as I wrote a few years ago:

Last May, Peggy Noonan wrote, in a call for tighter borders, that “no one believes in the wisdom of government, but they do believe it has a certain brute power.” Of all the unwise, brutal measures advocated by immigration restrictionists, a border fence is the only one that is not an existential threat to our heritage of freedom. Tamper-proof biometric ID cards are right out of a futuristic dystopian novel. And while most Americans prefer to go after illegal immigrants’ employers, thanks to the laws of supply and demand, the effect of this policy would be to drive immigrant workers a bit further into the legal underground, thus lowering their wages, boosting the pay-offs for employers willing to accept the increased risk of hiring them, and inducing a creeping criminalization of entrepreneurship in America. And I am at a loss to identify the morally relevant differences between mass deportation (which is sometimes whispered about) and things that usually happen in places like Yugoslavia and Sudan. A border fence is the Berlin Wall, but it’s not a police state, or the gulag, or ethnic cleansing.

Though illegal immigrants, including visa over-stayers, come from all over the world, most of them are from Mexico, having crossed the US-Mexico frontier, which is arguably the only place on earth where the First World shares a long land border with the Third World. The “problem” — which is really an advantage — of mass immigration from Mexico, could not happen in an island country like Britain. Britain can therefore be a free country, while at the same time having much less illegal immigration than the US does. Building a border fence is an attempt to make US geography more like Britain’s.

This move is unfortunate because to date, the accidents of geography have been a far wiser and more human legislator than Congress has. Mexican migration has helped to keep down US inflation, and contributed to the strong housing market of the past few years, while creating a stream of remittances, boosting the Mexican economy. It has also led to improved relations between the US and Mexico.

Hmm, I might have overreached a bit. But my main point was the sentence in boldface: a border fence is by far the least worst of all the enforcement measures that have been proposed. Border fence for amnesty would be a great deal. It’s interesting, too, that Krauthammer thinks Republicans could win the Hispanic vote– “Yes, win it”– by backing amnesty, though he hedges his bets by adding “just short of citizenship” to his amnesty proposal. I guess I have to approve of that. My personal sympathies might lie with amnesty plus a path to full citizenship, but Krauthammer’s proposal could ease the way for future keyhole solutions. It would be a big improvement over the status quo, and make me proud to be American.

UPDATE: Eugene Robinson writes:

Look at Colorado. In 2008, Latinos were 13 percent of the electorate; just over 60 percent voted for Obama. On Tuesday, Latinos made up 14 percent of Colorado voters — and, according to exit polls, three-fourths of them supported the president. Think this might have something to do with Romney’s “self-deportation” immigration policy? I do.

Nationwide, roughly three of every 10 voters Tuesday were minorities. African-Americans chose Obama by 93 percent, Latinos by 71 percent, and Asian-Americans, the nation’s fastest-growing minority, by 73 percent.

It seems to be nearly unanimous.

UPDATE II: “Hannity’s immigration evolution draws praise from conservative Latino groups”:

Sean Hannity’s announcement that he has “evolved” on immigration is drawing praise from a conservative Latino organization.

Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, on Friday applauded Hannity for telling his radio listeners he now supports a pathway to citizenship for those in the United States without criminal records.

“Sean Hannity has taken a bold step and conservatives are behind him. It is time to allow the market — rather than a bureaucratic federal government — to determine our immigration policy,” Aguilar said, according to a press release.

“The tidal wave of support for real reform is growing,” Aguilar said.

“There is a growing momentum within the conservative movement to embrace a market-based immigration plan that is in line with Ronald Reagan, who said it best:  ‘No regulation or law should be allowed if it results in crops rotting in the fields for lack of harvesters,’” Aguilar noted.

In the wake of the GOP’s failure to attract the Latino vote in the 2012 election, Hannity on Thursday said the United States needs to “get rid of the immigration issue altogether.”

“I think you control the border first,” he said. “You create a pathway for those people that are here — you don’t say you’ve got to go home. And that is a position that I’ve evolved on. Because, you know what, it’s got to be resolved.”

He didn’t say a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers only. Excellent.

Immigration and the 2012 election

So of course I would love to interpret Romney’s loss as a popular rebuke of the most nativist candidate in recent memory, who made Kris Kobach a campaign advisor, got the endorsement of Jan Brewer, advocated “self-deportation,” and so on. But I am clearly biased, and I’m no political analyst. So let me see if anyone else thinks Romney lost, partly, for his position on immigration.

Tom Bevan and Carl Cannon list 21 reasons why Obama beat Romney. One of them:

2. Amigos de Obama: Early in the Republican primary season, Romney proffered “self-deportation” as a partial policy prescription for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country. Romney’s rhetoric was aimed at Rick Perry, who had signed legislation granting in-state college tuition to young people brought to Texas as children.

This line of argumentation hurt Perry, but Newt Gingrich criticized Romney for it, as did the president. Obama, by contrast, embraced the DREAM Act, which would grant a path to citizenship for young immigrants, even those in the country illegally, who enlisted in the armed forces or attended college.

After Romney was nominated, the president signed an executive order barring the deportation of illegal minors. It was mostly symbolic (and perhaps not even legal), but it was politically savvy, and Latino voters noticed. Nationally, Obama received a whopping 69 percent of the Hispanic vote — an even higher percentage than in 2008 — and, with it, the swing states of Florida, Colorado, and Nevada.

Even more ominous for Republicans: George W. Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004; McCain won 31 percent in 2008; Romney garnered only 27 percent this year, even as their share of the electorate has grown from 8 to 10 percent.

That Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama might not be due to the immigration issue; it could reflect other issues, such as Latino support for Obamacare, or just general left-leaning. But the fact that Romney’s share of the Hispanic vote is so much less than Bush got in 2004 when he was championing immigration reform, and somewhat less than McCain’s even though McCain got a smaller share of the vote in general, is suggestive. Obviously, if Romney’s immigration position gained white votes while losing Hispanic votes, his immigration position might have been a net advantage. But none of the pundits seem to be saying that.

Here’s Jacob Weisberg in the FT:

The Republican strategy of making the election a referendum on Mr Obama’s handling of the economy was perfectly sound. The problem was that the Republican Party couldn’t pass the credibility test itself. For many voters disenchanted with Mr Obama, it still was not safe to vote for his opponent.

This failure began with the spectacle of the extended primary season, which was dominated by candidates with views far outside the political mainstream…

Mr Romney is not a right-wing extremist, but to win the nomination, he had to feign being one, recasting himself as “severely conservative” and eschewing the reasonableness that made him a successful, moderate governor of Massachusetts, the country’s most liberal state. He had to pass muster with his party’s right-wing base on taxes, immigration, climate change, abortion and gay rights. Many of his statements on these issues were patently insincere, but that was hardly reassuring. Mr Romney’s very insincerity and flexibility made it improbable that he would stand up to the GOP’s hyper-partisan congressional wing in office any more than he had during the primaries…

For women, Latinos, and young voters tempted to abandon Mr Obama, the old Mr Romney might have been a plausible alternative. The new Mr Romney, fettered by a feverish GOP was too risky a choice. (my emphases)

Immigration gets a mention, but Weisberg doesn’t seem to attach a lot of importance to it. By contrast, Fred Barnes stresses it:

There’s one piece of advice Republicans need to heed. They must quit alienating Hispanics by loose talk about immigrants. In presidential elections, they’ve fallen from a 40% share of the Hispanic vote in 2004, to 31% in 2008, to 27% this year. It becomes increasingly difficult to win national elections when at the same time the Hispanic vote is growing, the Republican share is shrinking.

Had Mr. Romney won half the Hispanic vote, he’d probably be president-elect day. As it was, billions of dollars were spent, millions of people enthralled, and the politics of Washington and the nation dominated—all by a presidential campaign that led to nowhere. The survivor in chief was the status quo.

Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel don’t mention immigration, though they do say: “The country is changing too fast. Most people have the sense that America is  different demographically from what it was 20 years ago. But unless they’ve been  reading the latest census data, they have no real idea. The changes are that  profound.” This is a recurring theme in the post-election commentary, e.g., in George Will’s take:

Perhaps Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election on Sept. 22, 2011, when, alarmed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entry into the Republican nomination race, he rushed to Perry’s right regarding immigration, attacking the Dream Act. He would go on to talk about forcing illegal immigrants into “self-deportation.” It is surprising that only about 70 percent of Hispanics opposed Romney…

In 2012 —  the year after the first year in which a majority of babies born in America were minorities — Hispanics were for the first time a double-digit (10 percent) portion of the turnout. Republicans have four years to figure out how to leaven their contracting base with millions more members of America’s largest and fastest-growing minority…

Republicans can take some solace from the popular vote. But unless they respond to accelerating demographic changes — and Obama, by pressing immigration reform, can give Republicans a reef on which they can wreck themselves — the 58th presidential election may be like the 57th, only more so. Continue reading “Immigration and the 2012 election” »