In 2008, I wrote an article for the University of Notre Dame Law School's Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy that was titled, "The Centrists Against the Ideologues." In a nutshell, the article explained that most of the folks that have an understanding of the issues involved in immigration reform can find enough common ground to forge a bi-partisan solution. The people that will not accept any kind of responsible compromise are, for lack of a better term, "ideologues," that are not interested in finding a solution. Furthermore, these ideologues can be found on both sides of the political spectrum. Neither party has a monopoly on immigration obstructionists.
Some of the folks that have opposed immigration reform in the past are actually quite principled and thoughtful people, that simply have specific theories on how to accomplish reform. For example, take Lamer Smith of Texas, who I have discussed this issue with. In private, we found that we agreed much more than we disagreed about how we should fix our immigration system. He recently stated in a Politico Op-Ed, titled, Immigration Enforcement First, "First, we must secure the border....The second enforcement measure is to implement an exit system for temporary visitors and workers....And third, we need to shut off the jobs magnet that draws millions of illegal immigrants to the U.S." I find myself in agreement with all of those things. I think that most people involved in the immigration reform conversation basically agree with those principles.
A responsible compromise that addresses the enforcement concerns of Congressman Smith should and will mandate that these three enforcement components of immigration reform be certified as enacted, prior to a trigger that will allow the earned legalization of the undocumented to proceed toward permant residency and citizenship. However, there are some folks on the progressive side of the aisle who ideologically would insist that the undocumented should have an unfettered opportunity to proceed directly toward citizenship regardless of whether the mandates are enacted or not. These ideologues do not understand that we need the trigger provision to insure that unlike in the 1986 immigration reform, these triggers will insure that the government will this time actually enact the enforcement as dictated by law.
I don't want to speak for Congressman Smith, but I believe that if an immigration bill were to put real teeth into addressing his first three concerns, he would be amenable to a broad but earned legalization for those undocumented folks that could qualify legitimately under the terms of the bill. We discussed this concept when he met with me and my colleagues Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention ERLC, and Dr. Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals. At that time, Congressman Smith was Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary. We discussed the question of how long the undocumented immigrants must be here, to qualify for legalization - something that the "Gang of Eight" has reportedly determined must be before 12/31/2011. Dr. Land suggested that of more importance than the length of time, should be their having established roots in their community. Chairman Smith and I had an interesting conversation as to how to avoid fraud in their establishing presence, which the Chairman was particularly concerned about, and I share his concern over that issue - although I suggested several possible remedies to address that issue.
On the other hand, there are some ideologues that will not seek to find agreement, but will instead seek to obstruct reform measures. One of these folks, who is against any immigration due to his belief in extreme population control measures, is F.A.I.R. President Dan Stein. In an Op-Ed in Politico, titled 5 Reasons GOP Should Say No to Immigration Plan, he wrote, "Many Republicans, still reeling from a bitter electoral defeat last November, desperately want to believe that agreeing to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants is a way to ingratiate themselves with Hispanic voters....As a bill nears completion, it is obvious that their Democratic colleagues will not agree to even the minimal protections for the interests of the American people that Republicans are seeking."
This statement is demagoguery, pure and simple. First of all, supporting responsible and principled immigration reform, inclusive of earned legalization, in fact IS critical to establishing common ground and eventual kinship between the Republican Party and the growing immigrant populations of Asians and Hispanics. I can tell you, as the Senior Immigration Policy Advisor to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, with their over 40,000 member churches and some 16,000,000 congregants, that Republicans must cross the "proverbial Jordan River," of immigration reform in order for Hispanics and all immigrant populations to listen to their message of smaller government, upward mobility, and free market principles. However, until Republicans pass immigration reform, and get that divisive issue behind them, immigrants simply will not be open to even listening to anything that Republicans have to offer - even though immigrants are, on the whole, quite socially conservative on a range and host of issues.
Furthermore, Mr. Stein is wrong about Democrats not meeting Republicans at least half way, and probably more than halfway, on tough and restrictive enforcement measures. Make no mistake, the Senate bill is first and foremost an enforcement bill. Far from agreeing to "minimal protections," Senate negotiators from both parties have struck a balance that leans very heavily beyond minimal protections. Their stated policies have real teeth. Tough prescriptions are needed to solve the problem of future illegal immigration, and our Democratic Party friends have come to the table as true partners in seeking tough but fair solutions, because they know that successful reform warrants a firm hand.
Finally, almost all Republicans, except for the most extreme ideologues, have sought to distance themselves from "Attrition Thorough Enforcement," or as Mitt Romney called the process of starving undocumented immigrants out of the country, "self-deportation." In a recent Politico Op-Ed titled, Conservatives Lash Out at Immigration Reform, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher held steadfastly to this morally reprehensible and cruel policy prescription, as he stated: “You make sure that people who are here illegally do not get jobs, and they don’t get benefits and they will go home. It’s called attrition. I don’t happen to believe in deportation. If you make sure they don’t get jobs and they don’t get benefits, I mean Mitt [Romney] called it self-deportation, but it’s not; it’s just attrition. They’ll go home on their own.”
As I stated at the beginning of this piece, some extreme ideologues just don't "get it," and many of them never will. I take comfort in the fact that these ideologues are shrinking in number, and are being marginalized by principled leaders that are seeking true solutions in good faith, and are no longer kicking this can down the road. It is true that this balanced approach toward finding solutions will probably not make anyone on either side of the aisle extremely happy. However, modernizing our "legal" immigration system through principled, bi-partisan, and responsible comprehensive reform is the only way that our nation will be able to find enough common ground to solve a problem that is universally recognized as detrimental to America's future prosperity.
Gittelson is president of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.