The best way to move immigration reform through the House and to get it passed is to involve the governors of the border states — California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas — in the enforcement of the process.
No Republicans, no Independents, and damn few Democrats trust Barack Obama. To condition immigration reform on the successful sealing of the southern border — as Senator Cornyn’s amendment and Rep. Paul Ryan’s talking points suggest — will only work if there is an effective method of certifying that it has been done.
Who can possibly trust this president after his repeated misrepresentations of what his own programs contain? There is no way the Republican base or GOP legislators will accept his say-so that the borders are sealed.
Yet, the concept of predicating and conditioning immigration reform on the effective end of the open door on our Southern border makes eminent sense. Once legalization proceeds, it is obvious that illegal immigration — new illegal immigration — will ratchet up, just as happened after the 1986 amnesty under Ronald Reagan. With the prospect of the suspension of the immigration laws dangled in front of the peoples of South and Central America and Mexico, we can expect them to show up at the border to wait their turn.
So the answer is to seal the border before legalization proceeds. But how can we trust Obama to do this and to tell us the truth about his progress toward that goal?
Enter the governors.
The Republican governors in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona can be the umpires of the system. California, the fourth border state, is Democrat, of course, and we cannot look there for an honest broker. But, if the immigration law considered by the House required the unanimous certification of all four border state governors that the targets for sealing the border have been met before legalization takes place, we will have a workable bill that can pass. With Texas and Arizona likely to stay in Republican hands for some time, the GOP will have an effective check to be sure that the border is, in fact, sealed.
And, in fact, the administration will have to seal it. If they don’t, the 11 million people currently in the U.S. illegally will exist in limbo awaiting legalization. Their demands will encourage enforcement on the border. They will be the hostages to the effort to stop illegal immigration.
Essentially, the Republicans have separated working from voting, staying in the country from citizenship, meeting immigrants’ economic needs from satisfying the Democratic Party’s political needs.
Once the 11 million can stay here legally, without threat of deportation, few will care whether they can vote or not — except for Democratic politicians who will care and complain loudly.
Republican immigration reform should bar government benefits for these illegal immigrants, something these hard-working people will not mind.
By granting half a loaf — work and legal status, not citizenship and voting — Republicans will defuse the issue, remove the block on their ability to win Latino votes and shoot down the Democratic hopes of a permanent majority.
Some conservatives call this approach “amnesty.” But if you commit a misdemeanor — possession of a small amount of drugs, for example — and you are arrested, come before a judge, are found guilty, and then are sentenced to pay a fine, is that amnesty? No, amnesty is when you walk away scot-free. The illegal immigrants this legislation will legalize will all have to pay a fine and back taxes. This is no amnesty. It is appropriate justice.