Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sheldon Richman: Republican reconsideration of immigration

“Those are my principles. If you don't like them I have others.” — Groucho Marx

  Apparently Groucho has been elected chairman of the Republican National Committee.

  Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama has so shocked the Republican Party that it now is willing to question long-held positions. If defeat prompts Republicans to abandon anti-freedom convictions, that’s all to the good — even if the abandonment is motivated by cynicism.

  The first position open to change is immigration. Hispanics are a growing percentage of the population, and the Republican share of their vote was only 27 percent this year, down from 44 percent in 2004 and 31 percent four years ago. As the Wall Street Journal observes, “Polls regularly show that immigration is not a priority for Hispanic voters, but how border policy is discussed still matters as a threshold and symbolic issue.”

  The party has long insisted on border security, which means an electrified fence, militarization, and even surveillance by drones. Only after the border is secure, Republicans and conservatives have said, should any change in immigration policy be considered. The most staunchly conservative Republicans have opposed anything that smacks of amnesty for “illegal aliens,” that is, persons without government papers. Conservative activists and talk-show hosts have insisted that no one whose first act with respect to America was to break the law deserves to be here.

  Now Sean Hannity, a conservative pundit on Fox News, says he has “evolved.” People without papers who have no criminal records should be allowed a “pathway to citizenship.” The old Hannity would have said that they all have criminal records by virtue of being in the country without the government’s permission. Funny, isn’t it, that conservatives who say they want small government think it should be big enough to decree who can and cannot freely cross the border.

  Hannity’s motive is clear — and it isn’t the advancement of individual freedom. “We’ve got to get rid of the immigration issue altogether,” he said. Why did it take a devastating loss at the polls for Hannity to evolve? Because refusal to take a humane position toward people who exercise their natural right to move in search of a better life has become an albatross for the Republicans.

  Fellow conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer wants a similar shift. Krauthammer says a GOP turnaround

       requires but a single policy change: Border fence plus amnesty. Yes, amnesty. Use the word. Shock and awe — full legal normalization (just short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement.

  Continuing, he writes,

       I’ve always been of the “enforcement first” school, with the subsequent promise of legalization. I still think it’s the better policy. But many Hispanics fear that there will be nothing beyond enforcement. So, promise amnesty right up front. Secure the border with guaranteed legalization to follow on the day the four border-state governors affirm that illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle.

  Krauthammer leaves a big question unaddressed: If until now Hispanics haven’t believed there would be anything “beyond enforcement,” why should they believe an upfront promise of amnesty? Because the Republicans want their votes.

  The cynicism runs thick: “Imagine Marco Rubio advancing such a policy on the road to 2016,” Krauthammer writes. “It would transform the landscape. He’d win the Hispanic vote. Yes, win it. A problem fixable with a single policy initiative is not structural. It is solvable.”

  Right. Put a Hispanic face on the GOP, and all will be well. Is that the same Marco Rubio who misled voters to believe his parents were exiles from Castro’s Cuba, when in fact they came to the United States more than two years before the communist revolution?

  Even if it’s for the wrong reasons, it’s good to see conservatives rethinking their position. But they have a long way to go. Forget about border-security. People have a right to move, and government should not be issuing — or withholding — permission slips. Being required to have papers should offend people who believe they are free.

  Next, forget about amnesty. Amnesty implies forgiveness for wrongdoing. But there is nothing wrong in breaking a decree that violates natural law and natural rights. No such product of a legislature even deserves to be called law.

  About the author: Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., and author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Visit his blog “Free Association” at Send him email.

  This article was published by the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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