WHAT THE ELECTION MEANS FOR IMMIGRATION

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After the 2012 presidential election the consensus was that Hispanics would block vote for liberalized immigration thereby threatening the future of the Republican Party. The results of yesterday’s elections prove this was wrong. As everyone knows, the Senate passed a vast liberalization of immigration in June 2013, the House refused to take it up, and no immigration bill was approved. Yet the Republican share of the Hispanic vote yesterday rose from 27% in 2012 to about 35%. This tells us two essential things about this issue. One, that Hispanics don’t fixate on it, and two, the rest of the country generally favors the current Republican emphasis on enforcement rather than liberalization.

No Republican in the country ran, as far as I can tell, on a platform of “immigration reform,” the euphemism for liberalization of legal immigration and amnesty for illegals. Rather, after last summer’s border crisis, Republicans ran away from that view and emphasized the need to enforce the border (though that too is a euphemism) and against amnesty. The most vocal candidate was Scott Brown in New Hampshire, who made it his top issue, and almost won. Perhaps his narrow defeat can be interpreted as a precursor of yet another shift back toward amnesty in Congress. But, anyone who watched that race carefully will realize by emphasizing enforcement as his top domestic issue when he was way behind, and coming very close to winning, it was a net plus for him.

Oregon, a blue state, voted 2-1 against a law giving drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants. Many other congressional candidates in Republican districts made immigration enforcement a marquee issue and won. It’s hard to deny that the political tide has shifted to enforcement rather than more immigration or amnesty.

If Republicans want to pass something on immigration in the next two years, they will likely spend more money on the problem, which is against their stated principles. Hiring more border guards is actually not the best way to enforce the border. The Border Patrol favors less interference in how it does its job. The administration had issued regulations limiting the agents’ discretion in arresting border crossers and minors. They may enact mandatory e-verify for all employers, which is positive. They may also eliminate certain types of legal immigration such as the visa lottery and the right to sponsor distant relatives for immigrant visas.

But I see no indication Republicans will take on birthright citizenship, the bizarre rule, never enacted by Congress, that anyone born in this country, whether here legally or not, is a citizen. This rule has just persisted through a century of inertia since a Supreme Court decision in 1898 involving a legal immigrant. This rule desperately needs to be changed.

In short, the election has taken us in the right direction. On immigration, we are probably back to where we were in the 1980’s. When the President issues his executive order giving work permits to millions of illegals in the coming days, the Republicans will have to face what to do in response. This will be an unprecedented exercise of executive power and thumb in the eye to the majority that favors enforcement. Republicans could overturn the executive order by statute. the President would then veto the law. The battle will be whether that veto is overridden. There is a real chance now that it will be. If that happens Republicans might then find the courage to do some positive things to enforce the law.