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The Intellectually Weak Case Made by Immigration Reform Opponents

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Last Sunday, David Brooks of the New York Times had this to say on NBC’s Meet the Press:

I’ve seen a lot of intellectually weak cases in this town.  I’ve rarely seen as intellectually a weak case as the case against the Senate immigration bill.  The Republicans say they want to reduce illegal immigration; the Congressional Budget Office says the Senate bill will reduce it by a third to half.  They say they want economic growth; all the top conservative economists say it’ll produce economic growth.  They say they want to reduce the debt; the CBO says it will reduce the debt. All the big major objectives the Republicans stand for, the Senate immigration bill will do.  The other things they’re talking about are secondary and tertiary issues.  Whether we get 86% border protection or 90%—compared to the big things this bill does, they’re miniscule.  I’m mystified.

David Brooks is right.  Ahead of an internal Republican conference meeting today on immigration, reform opponents in and out of Congress – from Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Michele Bachman (R-MN) to Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry of the National Review – rely on very weak arguments against immigration reform.  Here are just a few of the most recent excuses masquerading as arguments from the “Just Say No, Keep the Status Quo” crowd:

  • Republicans Don’t Need Immigration Reform Politically – They Just Need to Double Down on White Voters:  As articulated by Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics, a theory circulating in some Republican and conservative circles states that Republicans don’t actually need to improve their competitiveness with Latino voters, if only “missing” white voters return to the ballot box.  Some even extend this analysis to state that blocking immigration reform will help these “missing” voters return to the fold.  Pollster and demographics expert Ruy Teixeira and political scientist Alan Abramowitz post a rebuttal at Think Progress that captures why Trende’s analysis is so dangerously off the mark: “what starts out looking like a mysterious epidemic of ‘missing’ white voters becomes mostly a reflection of the simple fact that 2012 was a low turnout election. This unremarkable outcome is then hyped by Trende as the big demographic development of 2012 by doing something that is really quite misleading. He adds back in all the missing white voters to the 2012 electorate while leaving out all the missing minority voters.” As Benjy Sarlin of MSNBC recently wrote, “the coming Latino wave isn’t some hypothetical outcome that can be undone by blocking ‘amnesty’ or bringing a few more white voters to the polls.  It’s already baked into the demographic cake.”  The question for Republican leadership is whether they want to compete for Latino voters, along the lines of George W. Bush in 2004, or bury their heads in the sand and continue their self-delusion about the electorate’s current and future composition.
  • A Comprehensive Immigration Bill is Too Long and Complicated:  The joint editorial from conservative journalists William Kristol and Rich Lowry includes a talking point echoed by other bill opponents, “Finally, there is the sheer size of the bill and the hasty manner in which it was amended and passed.”  As NBC Political Director Chuck Todd tweeted, “How did number of pages a bill is or would be become a legitimate intellectual argument? I wish govt and law were this simple but it’s not.”  Despite the revisionist history, the Senate legislative process was a rare example of how to make policy in a transparent and bipartisan manner.  Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy dedicated 30 hours to the committee markup, allowing votes on hundreds of amendments.  Democratic leadership cleared the Senate calendar for 3 weeks to allow for the floor debate, but the amendment process was thwarted by Republican opponents who blocked consideration of all but a handful of amendments.  But the fact remains that Senators had more than 70 days to read the bill before casting their final votes, which should be ample time for senators and staff to digest and understand such an important piece of legislation.
  • There’s Not Enough Immigration Enforcement in Senate Bill:  Republicans have long called for greater border and interior enforcement, overlooking the fact that we already spend unprecedented sums, devote unprecedented resources, and have made unprecedented progress at the border.  But in pursuit of Republican support, the Corker-Hoeven amendment means that a whopping total of $46 billion will fund a doubling of the border patrol, 700 miles of fencing and the biggest build up in immigration enforcement in American history.  But still, bill opponents decry the Senate bill as weak.  As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post writes, “Is there any level of border security that can get a majority of House Republicans to support a path to citizenship?  What would that look like?  Can a majority of House Republicans accept citizenship under any circumstances?”  Sargent gets it.  For most opponents, the border and enforcement talking point is a convenient excuse, a goal post that is always moving, an objective forever out of reach.  Conservative writer Jennifer Rubin get so fed up with this dynamic, she challenged opponents in the House writing, “For all the tough talk about immigration reform, the House has done nothing on border security and the Senate has…The argument that the House can do nothing runs headlong into anti-immigration forces hype about the out-of-control border and the supposed economic burdens of illegal immigration.  If it’s such a horrible problem — immigrants pouring over the border and all — why is the House just sitting there?”
  • The Republican Base Violently Opposes Immigration Reform:  Conventional wisdom states that Republican base voters are hostile to immigration reform and will punish candidates who embrace it.  However, as a range of polling demonstrates, when provided with a full and accurate description of immigration legislation, a majority of Republican voters – even those who show up in the primaries – support comprehensive immigration reform.  New polling of Republican primary voters, released by Americans for a Conservative Direction and conducted by Basswood Research, finds per Huffington Post that “Most of the voters surveyed in this poll – 70 percent – said they are open to a bill that bolsters border security resources, requires employers to check on potential hires’ legal status and allows undocumented immigrants eventually to gain citizenship.  If border security is coupled with legalization, 65 percent of Republican voters said they would support a path to citizenship.”

As the polling experts at the New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog assessed recently:

Republican support nearly doubles, on average, in polls that specify the citizenship requirements compared with those that do not.  In surveys that do not specify more than one requirement, just 37 percent of Republicans support a path to citizenship.  (Most polls have released partisan breakdowns, but those that have not are not included in the average.)  In contrast, 72 percent of GOP respondents favored citizenship in polls that laid out the obstacles immigrants here illegally would have to navigate.  In other words, Republican support increased by an average of 35 percent.  As a result, in surveys that spell out the criteria immigrants may have to meet to become citizens, there is little difference in support among the three major partisan groups. They are within 11 percentage points of one another: 72 percent of Republicans support a path to citizenship with multiple, specified requirements, as do 77 percent of independents and 83 percent of Democrats.

By embracing a pro-immigration reform stance and explaining it accurately, Republicans can actually connect with Latino voters and members of their base at the same time.

Given the weak case made by opponents, Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, asks:

Really?  Are these the best arguments opponents can come up with?  The bill is too long and $46 billion in new enforcement isn’t enough?  The Republican Party should forget Latinos and double down on its whites-only strategy?  We can’t vote for reform because only two-thirds of our core supporters favor it?  It’s time for the serious people in House Republican caucus to step up in much the way Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ0 did in the Senate.  It’s time for the Republican Party to do the right thing on policy and the right thing politically.  It’s time for common sense and modernization to trump weak arguments and nihilism.