Rather than getting their heads handed to them in yet another grand bargain, Republicans should push for piecemeal reform through focused, narrow legislation. Senator Rubio’s security measures would be a good place to start. Mandatory and universal use of E-Verify, together with improvements in the program, should have been legislated years ago. We should create a technological system for monitoring and preventing visa overstays, the source of 40 percent of our illegal immigration, to say nothing of the 9/11 plotters — although Congress has already mandated it six separate times in the past 17 years, and it’s still not done. Likewise, Congress passed a law in 2006 mandating that a double-layer border fence be completed; it has not. Which is to say, the executive branch is no more in compliance with the law than the illegals themselves. Congress should demand that the fence be completed in accordance with the law. Other reforms, such as making economic skills rather than the reunification of extended families the main criterion for legal immigration, also deserve consideration. But rather than achieve that, both the president’s program and Rubio’s would expand “guest worker” provisions, as though there were an acute shortage of low-skilled labor in the United States.
Senator Rubio argues that a grand bargain is necessary because an enforcement-only bill could not pass the Senate, while an amnesty-only deal would not pass the House. But he is drawing the wrong conclusion from that stalemate: The better course of action is to fight for sensible enforcement provisions right now and let Democrats explain to an anxious electorate why they insist on holding enforcement of the law hostage to an immediate amnesty. And no grand bargain will take immigration off the table as a political issue: Liberals can always argue for weaker enforcement provisions in the future, easier pathways to legal residency and citizenship, and the like.
Senator Rubio, an exemplary conservative leader, is correct that our immigration system is broken. And he is correct that, at some point, we are going to have to do something about the millions of illegals already here. But he is wrong about how to go about repairing our immigration system, and wrong to think that an amnesty-and-enforcement bill at this time will end up being anything other than the unbuttered side of a half-a-loaf deal. And there is no reason to make a bad deal for fear of losing a Latino vote Republicans never had.