WASHINGTON, DC, February 14, 2013 ― Everyone has an opinion on immigration. While the media spin a simple narrative of where the two major political parties stand on the issue, the reality is much more complex. This week the complexity of the issue was illuminated as Republican voices from outside the beltway put forward their response to congressional efforts to put together a comprehensive immigration plan.
On Monday the Republican Liberty Caucus, which represents the libertarian wing of the party, issued a set of legislative priorities on immigration (PDF) which are very different from those the Republican establishment in Congress seems to be leaning towards. Rather than reframing the core ideas of the last failed immigration reform effort, while pandering to nativists on security measures and punishing businesses and immigrants, their ideas focus on creative free market solutions.
The Republican Liberty Caucus’ Statement on Immigration Priorities focuses on the benefits of immigration for our nation when it is part of a comprehensive free market economic approach to the needs of workers and businesses. It emphasizes three primary points. First, any policy should be designed to preserve the rights and economic interests of citizens and businesses. Second, access to visas should be limited by the market and not quotas, through a robust guest worker program. Third, immigration reform should be part of a comprehensive free market approach to business and labor in America.
The core of their proposal is the idea that most of the problems we currently face with border crime and an undocumented underclass of immigrants would be solved by accommodating the needs of workers and employers in a free market of labor. The main element of this would be a guest worker visa program with enough capacity to handle all the workers who want to come across the southern border. Give them a short term visa when they enter the country to look for work and register them in a national guest worker database. When they find work, upgrade that to a longer term work permit, or send them home if they remain unemployed.
They write that “the United States needs a better immigration reform plan that is unified and comprehensive. We need a plan based on free market principles that allows hard working people to come to America easily to expand our labor pool, improve their quality of life, create more opportunities and speed economic growth. Current plans seem overly complex, impractical and bureaucratic, full of compromises that will cripple the effort.”
This free market approach is based on studies which show that a large majority of the low-wage workers who currently come into the country illegally either come for seasonal work and then return home between periods of employment, or intend to work here for several years and take the money they earn back to start a business in their native country. Only a small percentage intend to immigrate permanently.
The higher-skill workers who come here are a much smaller group and come with different needs. They are much more likely to seek permanent resident status or citizenship. But again, a free market approach suggests admitting them freely and in adequate numbers to address employment demand. This benefits businesses and discourages outsourcing.
Reports suggest that whatever plan bipartisan groups in Congress are coming up with behind closed doors will not be based on this kind of realistic assessment of labor needs, but will continue the tradition of favoring politically popular immigrant groups while not addressing the real needs of workers or businesses. They are driven by the desire of unions to keep low skill workers out of the country and the cries of small but vocal nativist groups for more enforcement and less immigration in general.
The other thing which sets these proposals apart from what’s likely to come out of congress is that they completely go against the trend towards draconian enforcement measures. They come out strongly against such measures as E-Verify, penalties for businesses which have employed illegal workers, and penalties for workers who want to transition from illegal to legal status. This is based on the principle that hiring workers at a market wage or traveling to where job opportunities are should not be illegal and that as Thomas Aquinas wrote, “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Stopping E-Verify is actually ranked as their top priority because of its implied requirement for a biometric, trackable ID system for every worker in America. This would be a bureaucratic and technical nightmare which would effectively treat the entire native population as if they were criminals in order to identify illegal workers by the process of elimination. This draconian security measure would be unnecessary under the free labor market system the RLC proposes.
While there is no sign that anyone in Congress is interested in these kinds of common sense solutions to the immigration problem, it appears that Hispanic groups are very interested in these ideas, something party leaders should consider if they want to win support in that demographic. The Federation of Hispanic Republicans and the Cafe Con Leche Republicans, which represent hispanic Republicans of many backgrounds all over the county, have both expressed strong support for the RLC approach to the issue.
When the Federation of Hispanic Republicans board voted to sign on in support of the RLC plan, their Chairman Artemio Muniz commented, “I believe the RLC’s contribution to the national discussion on immigration is absolutely necessary in order to protect liberty in the formation of public policy. Our Republican party must walk a fine line not giving in to statist pressures, remembering the free market, and I truly think the RLC’s stated principles remind us of this.”
Bob Quasius, President of the Cafe con Leche Republicans, also expressed his board’s enthusiasm for the idea, writing, “The Republican Liberty Caucus deserves praise for taking a stand in support of a complete immigration overhaul, instead of largely replicating previous legislative attempts. We need ‘outside the box’ solutions, in particular abolishing arbitrary immigration and guest worker quotas, which have so often proven disconnected from the needs of our economy and for family reunification. When quotas and needs are disconnected, historically the result has always been massive illegal immigration, which should be viewed as largely a symptom of an unworkable legal immigration system rather than the problem itself.”
In a press release, the Republican Liberty Caucus noted the importance of including Hispanic groups in the dialog on immigration, saying, “The support of Hispanic groups for free market immigration reform shows the way for the Republican leadership. The GOP desperately needs to find a new way to connect with a more diverse audience, and it’s not enough to just show up and make a speech at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“We need to reach out to a younger Hispanic demographic, voters who are not yet committed to Democrat machine politics and who are more concerned about improving economic conditions and employment opportunities in their communities. Government policy has made a mess of immigration in this country and reducing the role of government in immigration will benefit everyone.”
This proposal from the fastest growing segment of the Republican Party and a group that represents younger and more open-minded voters is something which leaders in Congress ought to pay attention to. It is not a complete plan, but does provide a clear concept of a way to approach immigration which is truly comprehensive, unlike the cobbled together proposal which will probably come out of the bipartisan process in Congress. It very effectively points out the essential elements which any viable plan should include and the key pitfalls to avoid.
These ideas on immigration may seem radical, but they are offered in a spirit of hope and with the suggestion that taking the right road on this issue might lead to a different future for the party, with a request that “We hope Republican leaders will listen to voices from the base of the party, who understand that the future of the GOP must be founded in tolerance, diversity and a belief in limited government and free market principles.”
This nation was founded and grew great on the backs of immigrants. Is it that radical a concept that we should have an immigration policy based on something more rational than fear?
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