Immigration needs specific reform, not comprehensive confusion

When Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013 — When Congress uses the word “comprehensive,” American’s should put one hand on their wallet and the other on a copy of the Bill of Rights, because it probably means a whole slew of bad legislation is on the way. 

A “comprehensive” bill is a great place to hide all sorts of pork and payoffs and gifts to special interests. The term conjures images of a fat little boy at a dessert buffet, looking for just a few more goodies to load onto his already overburdened tray.  The only thing scarier is when it is “comprehensive” and “bipartisan” because then the payoffs are coming off both ends, with all the corporate subsidies and union payoffs you can fit in a few thousand pages of gibberish that no one is going to read.

This is why America is so very lucky that “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” as passed out of the Senate seems to be dead on arrival in the House of Representatives and with good reason.  Although the intent of the bill is to end illegal immigration, the CBO estimates that despite all the cumbersome new laws in the bill, 75% of illegal immigrants would choose to remain illegal rather than take advantage of its poorly conceived and misdirected proposals.

Republican House members are holding meetings to determine what course they want to follow, but indications are that rather than work with the Senate bill or start their own “comprehensive” style bill they will fall back on taking a non-comprehensive approach to immigration in the form of a series of separate bills to address various aspects of the issue.

That means the union payoffs, pork projects and pointless pandering to special interests which made up most of what was in the Senate bill will be gone and there will be an opportunity for a simpler and more sensible approach to these issues. 

For the taxpayer and concerned citizen, the advantages of a non-comprehensive approach to immigration reform are obvious.  First, a series of separate, individual bills are much harder to hide things in. Each bill will have a clear and defined purpose and things which don’t fit those purposes will stick out like a sore thumb.  Second, it adds accountability.  Each representative will have to vote on clear and distinct issues. They can’t get away with hiding behind the party herd.  They will have to put their name to a vote on each of the issues which concern voters.  If they vote for wasting billions on a border fence or to give welfare benefits to Somali pirates, you’ll know it.

Groups which follow these issues will be able to create check-lists and accurately rate representatives on a series of votes which may give an actual meaningful picture of where they stand on immigration and related issues which will be very useful to voters in the coming 2014 election.

This runs counter to the usual desire of members of Congress to avoid all accountability for their actions, but some House Republicans see the advantages and welcome the chance to make their positions clear.

When reached for an opinion on this issue, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) expressed the suspicions of many Republicans towards the comprehensive process, commenting “Congress never does ‘comprehensive’ well.  Democrats see this issue as a chance to create a captive voting block for their kooky leftist agenda.  Giving out instant citizenship to so many will cripple the country with new regulation and spending.  We need workers with the freedom to work and travel with their rights protected, not a new class of slaves to ever-growing entitlements.”

Broken down, the key immigration-related issues which need to be addressed in separate bills are:

    •    Border and visa security
    •    Citizenship-track immigration
    •    Seasonal guest worker visas
    •    High-skill guest worker visas
    •    Resolve status of current illegals
    •    Immigration related welfare reform

There is no reason why these cannot be taken on one at a time in simple, coherent bills. Each bill would assume that solutions had been found for the issues addressed by the other bills. With this approach it is also possible to leave some problems for later solution if a consensus cannot be reached. A guest worker program could be implemented to alleviate the illegal immigration problem immediately, likely making implementation of border security easier.  Development of visa security standards could be an ongoing project while other plans are implemented. A simple standardized system for resolving the status of members of the current illegal immigrant population could easily be developed which would apply to all forms of visa programs and a citizenship program.

This approach provides opportunities as well as accountability. It gives a chance for enterprising representatives to make a mark by championing a particular issue. They can go back to their constituents and say “I sponsored the guest worker visa bill” that got agriculture back on track in our state, or “I helped write a plan to transition illegal immigrants into a legal program.” There are opportunities for everyone to share some credit. Some representatives are already offering bills, like Rep. Mike McCaul’s drone-heavy border security bill.  But the great thing is that there could be several bills to choose from on each major topic, so you could have real competition of ideas.

Perhaps most importantly, it isolates out the bad aspects of the comprehensive bill. With a higher level of scrutiny bad ideas like special subsidies to encourage the hiring of immigrants over native workers, or handouts to help get immigrants unionized, can’t be passed under the radar. It is also unlikely that anyone focusing on specific solutions to real problems will follow the erroneous course of the comprehensive bill which attempts to force most immigrants into a citizenship program even if that’s not what they want or need. When the Democrats put forward their union-mandated “pathway to citizenship” plan which forces immigrants who just want jobs into a long, drawn out citizenship program, Republicans will find it much easier to just vote it down than they would as part of a comprehensive bill.

Many in the media and in the political establishment want to paint the rejection of comprehensive immigration reform as a failure, but that is not at all accurate. The comprehensive approach itself had already failed at the point where it did not provide enough visas for temporary workers and was so cumbersome that the CBO estimated that 75% of current illegals would choose to remain illegal if it was passed. 

Over 1200 pages of new law that doesn’t fix the primary problem at which it is supposed to be directed can only be considered a failure. When you fail at something important it’s a good idea to start over and take an entirely different approach.  This is a great opportunity to rethink immigration and do it right.

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Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle has been writing political analysis since the 1980s for newspapers, magazines and now online journals. He is currently Execitive Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Priorities, is on the board of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, and served four years as National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

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