Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) sat down for a very tough interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News on Sunday. Wallace hit Rubio with all the major criticisms from both right and left, from the danger of Republicans driving away Hispanic voters by being too tough on immigration, to the political damage Rubio sustained within the GOP by becoming the point man for “comprehensive immigration reform.” Rubio maintained that he has the same goals as always, and was willing to accept the hit to his popularity caused by standing up for what he believes is right, but he seemed subdued and chastened in this interview. If that’s a deliberate pose designed to convey the sense that he’s learned the folly of buddying up with Democrats to write an immigration bill, he’s doing a very good job of holding the pose.
The subtext here is that Rubio got burned during the Gang of Eight saga, and he won’t let it happen again, especially not after watching the current border crisis unfold. He doesn’t quite come out and say this plainly, but he’s definitely not talking about a comprehensive reform plan any more. As he laid it out for Wallace, he now wants ironclad border security improvements first, followed by a “modernization” of U.S. immigration law – including a shift to merit-based grants of citizenship, rather than “family-based” chain migration – and only then a strategy for dealing with the millions of illegal aliens already in the country. He doesn’t get far into the details of exactly how he would address that problem, but it doesn’t sound like a nearly-universal “pathway to citizenship” that would legalize them all in a decade is on the table any more. At any rate, Rubio sought to emphasize that was a question for another day, and if he stands by his proposal to handle border security and revamped legal immigration procedures as two distinct stages, dealing with the existing illegal population would occur at least a year or two in the future.
The next important step would be for Rubio and other GOP immigration reform advocates to make it clear they won’t accept any half-baked “amnesty now for security later” deals, or rely on some kind of easily-disabled “trigger” mechanism that can simply be ignored. I suspect the current border crisis has largely solved that problem, by saddling us with a huge, urgent, and highly-visible indicator of border insecurity. Combined with the role President Obama’s past (and, as Rubio notes, possibly future) executive orders have played in creating the crisis, it should be painfully obvious that no one can trust promises from this President on border security. That really should have been obvious two years ago, and it’s not just a problem with Obama, since the American political class is widely untrustworthy when it comes to any promise to perform duties later in exchange for goodies today, and border security is the most blindingly obvious illustration of it.
Rubio spent a little time discussing the “ambiguity” of current immigration law, and the role this played in bringing a wave of people across the border. That’s such a convoluted talking point from both sides, because there’s really nothing “ambiguous” about the situation at all. If you get across the border, you stay, with very few exceptions. For some reason, even Republicans such as Senator Rubio keep insisting that smugglers have “misled” their customers somehow. On the contrary, it’s the people who keep falsely claiming the 2008 Wilberforce Act was a blanket offer of refugee status to the entire underage population of Central America who are misleading the American public.
It would be enormously edifying if every immigration roundtable began with a ritual reading of the Wilberforce Act, which would annihilate all of the media and Administration spin about how it supposedly ties Obama’s hands and prevents deportations. In truth, the Wilberforce Act says no such thing. It applies to very few of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. It expressly stipulates that repatriating minors with their families in Central America is to be the Administration’s top priority. It remains bizarre that we’re having a huge public debate about what the creators of ObamaCare “intended” that tortured law to do, and their intentions supposedly trump what the law actually says, but the blindingly clear intentions of those who authored and passed the Wilberforce Act don’t matter one little bit.
I’d rather see more Republicans insist on following current law, rather than discussing legislative “fixes” that are not actually needed. To his credit, Rubio generally took that approach during his Fox News interview, but he didn’t go into details about how the Wilberforce Act is being deliberately misconstrued. Every prominent Republican should be prepared to do that. Rubio also gives broad rhetorical support to the notion of “ambiguity” where none exists. The only real discrpancy here is the difference between what American law clearly requires, and what the Administration is actually doing, and “ambiguity” is not the right word to describe it.
Chris Wallace delivered the “Republicans must pander to illegal aliens in order to win the legal Hispanic vote” canard with a bit too much enthusiasm, and Rubio wasn’t aggressive enough at slapping it down. Let me be blunt: there are only two effective Republican strategies for upholding the rule of law without losing that Hispanic vote to Democrats by enormous margins. First, it is essential to remind legal Hispanic voters that their interests do not coincide with illegal immigrants, in any way. No legal immigrant or his first-generation descendants should be cheered at the site of others simply walking across the border and taking what they worked so hard to earn. And no one of any ethnic background has reason to look forward to the introduction of millions of new low-wage employees into a shrunken job market, which has particularly acute problems finding employment for young and entry-level employees. There is nothing immoral or xenophobic about American voters insisting that the American government prioritize the interests of American citizens.
Secondly, Republicans should make the Democrats pay a high price for their shrill hysterics, which are easy to portray as screwing over “the people who work hard and play by the rules” in favor of those who did not play by the rules. The harder the Democrats push illegal immigrants as a wedge issue, the more American citizens of every background have reason to view the Democrat Party as an obstacle to their prosperity, an active adversary to the law-abiding taxpayer. The American electorate did not vote to absorb destitute populations from around the world. The more forcefully those voters are told they must accept the burden placed on their strained economy and beyond-broke government – the more loudly they are told that resistance to such demands is completely unacceptable – the more properly resentful they will become.
It takes guts to make those arguments. The backlash from Democrats (and nominally Republican stalwarts of the amnesty caucus) will be furious, in no small part because they know how devastating those arguments are. It would be very helpful to have people with Senator Rubio’s background and charisma leading the charge. Most of the American public, including a sizable portion of the Democrat electorate, can get behind the first two phases of the three-stage reform agenda he laid out in this interview: ironclad border security first, modernization of legal immigration second… and then let’s see where that leaves us. If Republicans can hold that course into a gale-force wind of racial politics, they might just get somewhere. If Rubio thinks he had a rough time with conservatives during his Gang of Eight adventure, just wait until he sees how Democrats savage him for turning away from their idea of “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Update: For an example of what I mean about Democrats going overboard with racial politics, here’s Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) essentially calling Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) a traitor to his race for not getting on board the amnesty train:
Garcia wails about a “fellow Cuban-American” from the Senate “dictating to this House that we should strop away rights from children,” tossing in the charge that it’s “un-American.” Why, I’m old enough to remember Democrats screaming like stuck pigs at the first suggestion that someone might question their patriotism!
At any rate, it’s the people Garcia claims should be immunized from our laws who are non-American. What, pray tell, are the magical “rights” people from outside the United States possess, which empower them to make irresistible demands upon us? Does Garcia have a list of those rights, and where exactly would he go in the Constitution to justify any of them? Do those rights evaporate when foreign nationals reach a certain age? Do they accrue to the citizens of every foreign country, or does Garcia have a list of exactly which global populations have special “rights” under American law?
Republicans need to hit back and make sure a price is paid by Democrats for rhetoric such as this, because the media certainly won’t. Good rule of thumb for taxpayers: when you hear any Democrat ranting about what a “rich and prosperous” country we are, grab your wallet.