Hillary Clinton has already staked out her position, endorsing a path to full and equal citizenship for illegals. Fair enough. That’s not going to come as much of a shock to anyone and it’s an idea which is highly popular among her base. And it’s not just hard core liberals who feel that way. The depressing reality is that when offered three options for what to do about illegal aliens, (provide a path to citizenship if they meet certain requirements, provide a path to permanent, non-citizen legal resident status, or deportation) a majority of poll respondents in every single state chose the citizenship option as recently as in February. This is obviously an issue that Hillary and the entire Democrat ticket up and down the line will be flogging hard next year. For Republicans, this is not a place where simply saying no is an option.
So what is the conservative answer? Marco Rubio has come up with the beginnings of a plan, and in this case the style may be far more important than the substance in terms of defining each step along the way. In order to effectively communicate a Republican response to Hillary’s populist dogma, the starting point – as described by Rubio – is to take things one step at a time. James Hohmann, writing at Politico, explains the theory.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) writes in a new book that immigration reform should happen through piecemeal bills, not the kind of massive compromise legislation that he sponsored in the last Congress.
The potential 2016 presidential candidate nods to conservative critics of his big bill, which passed the Senate but never got a vote in the House. But he does not apologize or recant.
He does advocate a new process for letting people who entered the country illegally to stay. It does not include an explicit pathway to citizenship, something that was included in the Senate bill after negotiations with Democrats. But aides say Rubio does not rule out allowing people who entered the country illegally to eventually become citizens.
While thin on details, it still sounds to me like Rubio is attempting to edge his way toward a pathway to citizenship without saying so and inflaming the base. Assuming I’m correct, on that score I still find him to be wrong and would not support such a plan. But intentionally or not, Rubio has hit on a key feature of any congressional movement on immigration which I think will prove salable to a majority of voters. I would summarize it with one campaign phrase which is easily portable: let’s not rush into anything.
The key feature of Rubio’s apparent objective is not where we’re going so much as how we get there. The one thing we want to avoid at all costs is a comprehensive immigration reform package. That’s the last thing we need. In fact, we don’t need a comprehensive anything being constructed in various committees and rolled out onto the floor of Congress in seven wheelbarrows stacked high with tens of thousands of sheets of paper which nobody is going to read before they vote on it. What’s called for is a series of discrete, targeted initiatives which address the various components of the immigration debate. Each should be short enough and clear enough for the average voter (and even the average congressman) to read, digest and weigh in on. And with the GOP in control of both chambers of Congress, they should insist on this.
If people ask why we can’t simply have one massive panacea pushed through to the President’s desk, just point them toward Obamacare. We had to pass the bill to find out what was in the bill, and boy howdy… did we find out.
There are some aspects of immigration reform which will easily draw broad public support and should be able to be passed. Increasing border security and providing the resources required to turn back illegals as they try to enter could be an easy one. Sanctions or other disincentives targeting nations which don’t do their part to keep their citizens from crossing illegally is another. A hefty version of E-verify and stiff penalties for those who employ illegals should be a walk in the park, particularly when you point out how violators are filling jobs which could be taken by taxpaying citizens.
If you can manage to get all of those things done, then and only then might we have the legislators sit down and talk about a lengthy, verifiable path for those with clean records to move toward some type of legal status if they are willing to complete all of the steps they should have gone through before coming here in a criminal fashion. That may or may not pass, but putting it up for a vote at least carries the virtue of demonstrating that you’re not simply shutting down the conversation.
But the bottom line here, as I said at the beginning of this column, is that big jobs can be tackled in a step by step, piecemeal fashion. And they should. This needs to be less of a discussion about immigration as a specific policy debate and more about how Congress conducts its business as a whole. We can, and should, apply this to every massive stack of documents which shows up on the floor. A candidate with a bold vision should take a stand against any and all omnibus spending bills. There’s no reason that spending can’t be broken down into discrete pieces. I’m pretty sure that a fairly clever group of high school students could look over the spending agenda and segregate out some high level buckets for various areas of spending to be placed in, debated and voted on separately. The farm bill… the transportation bill… the list goes on. And if opponents in Congress protest and say that the number of bills would swell to too large of a number, we should ask them why they really wanted the job in the first place if not to consider each proposal on its merits and vote accordingly.
This type of top down reform in how Congress conducts its daily operations could be a major campaign centerpiece. Cutting up these projects into bite size pieces will bolster public confidence in the process and increase transparency. Allegedly those are two things which both parties agree on.