I haven't had much to say recently about the substance of the immigration debate playing itself out in the U.S. Congress, media, and presidential debates. I did discuss it when he first proposed it. I agree with Republican politicians at most about 55% of the time and Democrats at most about 35% of the time (and that's people like Joe Lieberman), according to a rough estimate from this test. This is an issue on which I don't agree with the main base of either party. I probably agree more with the president, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Senator Kennedy (D-MA) on the general kind of mediating position to take, and I probably would have grave concerns about the way it's being implemented in the current bill, but I've not looked at it in enough detail to have a lot to say. Justin Taylor links to several Hugh Hewitt posts that get into the legal details and practical implications, but I don't have the patience or time to look into any of that carefully enough to evaluate it. I do think it's interesting that hardly anything Hewitt says has all that much to do with the main complaints of the base of either party.
I did want to register some thoughts I've had over the last few weeks about some arguments I'm seeing. They seem to me to be terrible arguments, and some of what I've been thinking hasn't been emphasized very much in what I've had the time to hear on the radio and read on a few blogs I've managed to check in on.
1. Here's one argument I won't accept. Some say that finding a pathway for illegal immigrants to mend their ways and become legal is somehow condoning their illegal entry. I disagree. It would be bad if people who enter illegally can get a pathway to citizenship that's easier than people who enter legally. That would be rewarding illegal entry. But you can condone without rewarding. What does condoning involve? Reducing a penalty is not condoning. It is reducing a penalty. Condoning would be saying that it's not wrong. Changing a law so that the penalty is different, even if you do so retroactively for people who've already broken the law, does not mean the act was not criminal. There is still a stiff penalty even in the proposed bill. It requires temporary deportation and a pretty severa fine. How is it condoning something to reduce a penalty from permanent deportation to temporary deportation and a huge fine? The very notion seems to me to misunderstand what condoning even is.
2. The motivation for this bill is an attempt to find a middle ground between two extremes, and I think most people will agree that both of those extremes are bad even if they don't accept that this particular middle ground is the right way to go. Some will see it as too close to one or the other extreme. I think it's worth keeping in mind that the intent is good, since it's at least in principle trying to find that mediating position.
One extreme would be simple amnesty. Those who have committed crimes in entering this country will be pardoned, and they will be allowed to enter the pathway to citizenship more easily (because of their cheating shortcut) than those who entered legally. I don't think anyone wants that, once you put it that way, although some have offered policy changes that would have that effect. The other extreme would be to insist on carrying out the impossible task of finding and deporting all illegal immigrants and preventing the people responsible for doing that kind of thing from fighting more serious problems like Islamicist terrorism.
The mediating path sought by the president, Senator McCain, and Senator Kennedy allows for some grace in terms of past penalties but a severe penalty if they want to remain here and continue to avail themselves of that grace. This is the basic idea behind this bill. It diminishes the problem considerably without denying the seriousness of the crime committed, and it doesn't require a ridiculous and unmanageable amount of effort, while allowing the U.S. to continue to benefit to some degree from the things that illegal immigrants have contributed toward in this country.Now maybe this bill isn't the best of all possible mediating positions, but it seems to me to be a decent attempt in principle. In that, I can see how someone might think this is the kind of thing that would be good policy on the broader issues. Again, I don't know if the details of the bill work that out correctly, but it seems to me that most of the arguments I'm seeing are arguments against the principle of the thing, and it's those arguments that I haven't been able to accept.
3. The presidential candidates for the GOP nomination are fighting over which candidate is the best heir to the Reagan legacy. One thing worth observing is that the current venom from all these Reaganites against the Bush plan, as if it's a violation of conservative principle, is that Bush's views on immigration are much closer to Reagan's views on immigration than those of Bush's conservative critics are. That doesn't mean he's right, but his critics ought not to make wild and false claims about Bush betraying the Reagan legacy on an issue where he's closer to Reagan than they are. The Reagan position is actually much closer to the leftward extreme, and the Bush-McCain-Kennedy view seems downright conservative in comparison.
4.On the other hand, a better argument than most against the bill can be found here. Defenders of the bill have to consider immigration crimes to be a lesser offense than other crimes, or else they must explain why the approach the bill is taking warrants treating immigration criminals differently from other criminals (even though neither kind deserves this kind of mercy). I'm not sure that distinction can't be justified, but it's a much bigger challenge than I would want to tackle at the moment. So my criticism of most of the arguments against this kind of immigration reform doesn't mean I don't think there are serious philosophical objections to it. I suspect these objections might be surmountable. These are very different kinds of crimes, after all, even if they both indeed are crimes. But even if the arguments against this bill in principle seem to me to be misguided, I don't want to say that it's easy to see that in every case. Some of the arguments are much more difficult to overcome than others. It's just that the most common ones I'm seeing are the bad ones.
5. Then, of course, you won't hear too many conservatives giving this argument, which seems much stronger to me than almost anything I do hear from conservatives on this issue. This is a way that options for legal immigration will be severely limited by this bill, at least as it's being currently proposed. It isn't tied to the principle of the bill, so this touches none of my above points. But when it comes to the particular issues this bill raises because of the fine print, I'm sure there are a whole host of policy objections against it that I'd agree with. Since I haven't been paying attention to those issues, I have little to say.
But I do want to register my suspicion that many of the objections Democrats are raising are just as serious and important than the ones Republicans are raising, and I unfortunately don't see many conservatives acknowledging that. I don't see how recognizing the particular problem in the article I just linked to requires sacrificing any conservative principles. It's sad, therefore, to see conservatives avoiding a whole category of moral reason simply because that doesn't get the base fired up.
I can think of two explanations for this. One possibility is that there's something seriously wrong with the moral sensibilities of the Republican base. If that's true, it would go a long way toward justifying the comments supporters of the bill are making that those who oppose it on the right are doing so in part out of little concern for the actual people involved, which can be explained in part by recognizing that a good deal of opposition to illegal immigration is simply opposition to any immigration from undesirable groups, in other words pure racist or otherwise ethnocentric conceptions of what Americans are supposed to be and who is supposed to be here. That sort of view deserves harsh moral condemnation.
Another possibility is that those who determine the bulk of the complaints being issued against this bill from the right are just not very good at knowing what will fire up the base. I can imagine that might be true to some extent when it comes to pundits and high-level politicians. I have a little more trouble imagining how it could be true of bloggers, who represent the base much more directly. But that still might be part of the explanation.
Either possibility disturbs me, however. I don't think the conservatives I know personally are anti-immigrant, but the conservatives I know probably aren't representative of the base, in part because they're mostly in the northeast and mostly intellectuals and in part because I wouldn't spend much time associating with people who hate my wife (who is a naturalized citizen) or think she shouldn't be in this country. I don't tend to think very highly of people who want to protect American culture against the invasion of other cultures or those who see an entire ethnic group (a fairly diverse one, no less) as something inferior or culturally depraved. The conservative positions I'm attracted to aren't like that. But it does seem to me that a fair amount of the rhetoric I'm seeing on this issue leans very strongly in that direction, and it's hard for me to see it as anything but evil.
6. The Democratic leadership has been doing exactly the kind of thing with this bill that they complained about Republicans doing. They tried to push the bill through without giving time to the opposition to read it carefully, something they regularly complained about the Republican leadership doing before the changeover. They didn't have the committees working the bill but had a small coterie of people who all agreed with each other put it together without input from those who had other proposals. The bill was completed, therefore, before debate could influence it.
I remember specific condemnation of this kind of thing when the wave of euphoria at the Democratic takeover was in full force after the election. There were statements that were designed to send word to voters that they'd been heard and that this sort of thing was over. I've argued before that this constitutes the moral equivalent of a broken promise, even if the word 'promise' was never used. I was consoling myself after the election that the Democratic leadership at least seemed interested in ending some of that stuff. This isn't the first time I've been disappointed by them on this kind of issue.