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More Immigration Follies In Iowa By GOP 2016 Field

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Reminders that GOP Field is Alienating Young Voters on Immigration, While Embracing Incoherent, Extreme and Unworkable Policy Ideas and Soundbites

With the most of the likely 2016 Republican presidential field in Iowa over the weekend, immigration was once again a big focus of the proceedings.  Here are three of the key immigration developments that caught our eye:

Young Republicans Question Scott Walker on Immigration – A Reminder that GOP is Also Alienating Young Voters Via Immigration Debate: As the New York Times reported, “After giving a version of his stump speech to a mostly gray-haired crowd in Iowa, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was pressed on Friday by two twenty-something Republicans about a percolating issue he did not mention: immigration.”  The piece goes on to describe how two different young Iowa Republicans raised concerns about the policy and political implications of Walker’s immigration stance.  While anecdotal in nature, the focus of the questions highlights an underappreciated political and demographic point – in addition to the obvious demographic challenges faced by the Republican Party with Latino and Asian-American voters due to the GOP’s hardline immigration stance, the Party is alienating young voters of all races and ethnicities when it comes to issues of immigration and changing national demographics.  For example, Fusion poll of millennial voters published last October, found that Democrats enjoyed a 19-percentage point advantage over Republicans on the question of “which party do you think represents your views on immigration policy best,” and that young voters were more pro-reform than older counterparts on a range of specific immigration policy questions.

Scott Walker Continues to Advance Radical and Incoherent Immigration Position – Here’s What He Needs to Clarify: Walker’s immigration policy “answers” didn’t really clear things up for one of the young Iowa questioners.  As Eddie Failor told the Times, Walker “gave a conflicting message, in my opinion … He said he’s not one who believes in spending billions of dollars to deport all these undocumented immigrants.  When I asked if he supported a pathway to legal status, he said no, he’d send them back to their country of origin and let them get in line with everybody else.  I don’t know how that works within the deportation equation.”  Failor’s well-expressed confusion is understandable, given the mix of incoherence and radicalism that Walker is putting forward on immigration.  See here for a detailed explanation of the implications of Walker’s latest positions on immigration – and why they likely make Mitt Romney’s immigration stance look comparatively moderate.

When it comes to the heart of the immigration debate – policies for 11 million undocumented immigrants living and settled in the U.S. – Walker seems to have embraced the offensive, discredited and unworkable “report to deport” idea.  It is the height of fantasy to think that undocumented immigrants will risk everything and willingly leave their lives and families in America to return to a nation that is no longer home, in order to apply for a visa that for almost all is unattainable so that they may one day return to the very nation in which they now live.  So what happens under the Walker scenario when undocumented immigrants don’t sign up to leave?  There are three possibilities: (1) a full-fledged mass-deportation push – one that would tear apart the fabric of the nation and be prohibitively expensive; another push for self-deportation – meaning advancing policies and enforcement on the ground designed to make life so miserable that immigrants pack up and leave on their own (see Mitt Romney’s stance and Arizona’s SB1070 state law, now five years in the rearview mirror); or (3)  embrace of the status quo, which would satisfy no one and simply kick the can down the road.

Marco Rubio Again Embraces “Border Security First” Excuse for Immigration Inaction:  In an interview with the Des Moines Registereditorial board, Senator Marco Rubio again embraced the “border security first” excuse for inaction – a well-crafted soundbite, but not a serious policy prescription (see www.goptalkingpoints.com for more on what the GOP field is saying on immigration, and what they really mean).  As we’ve discussed, the “border security first” soundbite that RubioJeb Bush¸ Scott WalkerRand PaulTed Cruz and other contenders articulate likely means the border will never be deemed secure and comprehensive immigration reform that will lead to a functioning, orderly and modernized legal immigration system will never be the next step.  In others words, “secure the border first” is a vacuous excuse for inaction and a prescription for the dysfunctional status quo.

Here’s why. Border security has become so politicized that there is no agreement on what constitutes a secure border or on who should be authorized to make such a judgment. The House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee has approved a bill in 2015 that would define operational control as deterring 100% of the entries across a 2,000 mile border – a remarkable and unachievable metric given that the 28 mile long Berlin Wall deterred 95% of attempted crossings.  Back in 2008, GOP nominee John McCain said we should leave the judgment to border state governors – as if the governors at the time, such as Jan Brewer of Arizona and Rick Perry of Texas, would ever certify such a thing.  Some suggest that Congress should decide when the border is secure – as if the same Members of Congress that blocked the best chance in a generation to pass immigration reform could be counted on to make a fair-minded, objective determination. Still others suggest that the decision should be left to the Border Patrol – as if the same Border Patrol agents on the ground who are openly antagonistic toward enforcement reforms and worry about securing their own jobs first can be trusted with such a decision.

Moreover, “secure the border first” assumes the border is out of control.  After all, we all saw images of kids turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents last summer!  The facts are as follows: (1) According to the Migration Policy Institute, the federal government spends $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement, more than on all other federal law enforcement priorities combined; (2) All of the border security metrics written by hard-line Republicans that served as triggers in the Senate’s 2007 comprehensive immigration reform bill have already been met; (3) The Senate immigration bill that passed in 2013 on a bipartisan basis had the toughest border security provisions in American history, and it still wasn’t “tough enough” for most Republicans;  (4) Contrary to Republican claims that immigration enforcement has “collapsed” under this President, the Obama Administration has deported a record number of immigrants compared to previous Administrations; and (5) According to the Pew Research Center, net migration from Mexico has fallen to zero, and perhaps less.

As the Wall Street Journal editorialized in 2013: “Republicans who claim we must ‘secure the border first’ ignore the progress already made because their real goal isn’t border security.  It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.”