The best way to move immigration reform through the House and to get it passed is to involve the governors of the border states — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — in the enforcement of the process.
No Republicans, no independents and damn few Democrats trust President Obama. To condition immigration reform on the successful sealing of the Southern border — as Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate's No. 2 Republican: Border tax 'probably dead' McConnell: Senate will pass short-term funding bill to avoid shutdown The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE’s (R-Texas) amendment and Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan's home state highlights challenge for GOP high-risk insurer pools Trump 'disappointed' in congressional GOP Bipartisan push grows for new war authorization MORE’s (R-Wis.) talking points suggest — would only work if there is an effective method of certifying that it has been done.
Yet the concept of predicating and conditioning immigration reform on the effective end of the open door on our southern border makes eminent sense. Once legalization proceeds, it is obvious that illegal immigration — new illegal immigration — will ratchet up, just as happened after the 1986 amnesty under former President Reagan. With the prospect of the suspension of U.S. immigration law dangled in front of the people of South and Central America and Mexico, we can expect them to show up at the border to await their turn.
So, the answer is to seal the border before legalization proceeds. But how can we trust Obama to do this and to tell us the truth about his progress toward that goal?
Enter the governors.
The Republican governors of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona could be the umpires of the system. California, the fourth border state, is a blue state, of course, and we cannot look there for an honest broker. But if the immigration law the House considers requires the unanimous certification of all four border state governors that the targets for sealing the border have been met before legalization can take place, we will have a workable bill that can pass. With Texas and Arizona likely to stay in Republican hands for some time, the GOP will have an effective check to be sure that the border is, in fact, sealed.
And, in fact, the administration will have to seal it. If it doesn’t, the 11 million people who are currently in the U.S. illegally will have to exist in limbo awaiting legalization. Their demands will encourage enforcement on the border. They will be hostages to the effort to stop illegal immigration.
Essentially, Republicans can separate working from voting; staying in the country from citizenship; and meeting immigrants’ economic needs from satisfying the Democratic Party’s political needs.
Once the 11 million can stay here legally, without threat of deportation, few will care whether they can vote — except for Democratic politicians, who will care and complain loudly.
Republican immigration reform should bar government benefits for these illegal immigrants, something these hard-working people would not mind overly.
By granting half a loaf — work and legal status, not citizenship and voting — Republicans can defuse the issue, remove the block on their ability to win Latino votes and shoot down the Democratic hopes of a permanent majority.
Some conservatives call this approach “amnesty.” But if you commit a misdemeanor — such as possession of a small amount of drugs — and you are arrested and come before a judge, are found guilty and then are sentenced to pay a fine, is that amnesty? No: Amnesty is when you walk away scot-free. The illegal immigrants this legislation would legalize would all have to pay a fine and back taxes. This is no amnesty. It is appropriate justice.
Morris, who served as adviser to former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.