Why Liberty Lovers Should Reserve Judgment on Immigration Reform

It is fair to say that in recent weeks conservatives and supporters of reasonable immigration reform have become increasingly pessimistic about the direction of the bill based on the compromises Republicans have made in the Senate. Call me hopelessly optimistic, but I am confident that the chances of passing a high-quality immigration reform bill are still very high.

There is no denying the bill that has emerged from the Senate is absolutely not what conservative Americans want, but what everyone needs to understand is that the agreement reached by the so-called “Gang of Eight” was more about political theater than it was about producing a piece of legislation that had any chance of becoming law.

Put yourself in the position of a Republican senator from a moderate state who must make a decision on the immigration reform bill. You know that passing a bill that requires border security prior to any immigration reforms going into effect will never pass the Democrat-led Senate on the first try. You would also know that any attempt to push through a liberal immigration reform bill, one where border security is not a trigger for the legalization process to begin, will ultimately be shot down in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives — and that any attempt to block any immigration reform from happening will be a colossal political failure given that the vast majority of Americans support action being taken immediately.

So with all of that information in mind, the most sound course of action is not to stand firm on conservative values in the Senate only to have the bill die on the proverbial table but is instead to allow the Senate to pass a version of the bill that can easily be reformed in the House of Representatives.

The political beauty of allowing the Senate bill to go into the House in a more liberal form is that it lets Republicans in the Senate play both sides of the fence during the next election. They can tell their Democratic and moderate constituency groups that they voted in favor of the more moderate bill that originated in the Senate while also proudly proclaiming to conservative Republicans that they voted in favor of border security when the bill comes back to them after being altered in the House. In other words, Republicans in the Senate get to vote both ways — a politician’s dream!

But if the Senate refused to pass conservative border security requirements in the Senate bill, why would they vote for border security when the bill comes back from the House? The answer is simply that if any member of the Senate, either Republican or Democrat, wants the immigration reform problem resolved, the only way I believe that will happen is if the House bill with mandated border security is passed in some form. Both Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate know this and wanted to be on record supporting a bill that did not have these requirements in place, which explains why they spent so much time trying to pass a bill in the Senate that had no chance of passing in the House.

Some have speculated that Senate Democrats will not vote for a bill that requires border security to go into place prior to legalization going into effect. This is a complete falsehood. Democrats desperately want to legalize the millions of illegal aliens residing in the United States today because they believe this will be a huge electoral boon for them in the coming decades. It seems unfathomable to me that they would, after decades of making promises to the Hispanic community, vote against legalization being proposed by Republicans because they don’t want border security.

It is far more likely that Senate Democrats knew when they recently signed their version of immigration reform that they would be forced into signing some form of a House bill requiring mandated security down the road. Democrats could wait until they have the numbers in the House as well at some point in the future to pass immigration reform the way they want it (without any border security), but such a plan passes on this rare opportunity to finally get legalization for illegal immigrants at a time when Republicans seem desperate to move past this issue once and for all.

This does not mean conservatives shouldn’t be concerned about the House bill. If conservative Republicans in the House, as Dick Morris has also suggested, refuse to vote for any version of immigration reform on the grounds that they believe we should be enforcing the laws already in place, then Speaker Boehner, who seems convinced that passing immigration reform is necessary, will be forced to compromise on the bill with moderate Democrats to get a majority of votes. The more compromising Boehner must do to pass the bill in the House, the lower the quality of the bill will be that ends up being signed in the Senate.

It seems then, rather ironically, that the best chance of passing quality immigration reform is for conservative Republicans to abandon their firm stance in favor of the political reality. An immigration reform bill will be signed into law, and it is all up to conservative Republicans to determine just what kind of law we end up with.

Content published on the Young Americans for Liberty blog is only representative of the opinions and research of the individual authors. It does not necessarily reflect the views, goals, or membership of YAL.

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