Immigration Reform Resurrected!

Nothing makes politicians see the light like losing. Even while immigration restrictionists reassure themselves that the GOP’s immigration message is fine despite losing as much as 80 percent of the Hispanic vote in key states, the party’s leadership has awoken to reality: to save the Grand Old Party, Republicans must embrace immigration reform. Yesterday, influential Senators Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced their intention to introduce a comprehensive reform plan that would both document America’s 12 million unauthorized immigrants and create a legal pathway for new immigrants to enter the U.S.

The senators’ announcement comes a few days after Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) told ABC News’ Dianne Sawyer that “a comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.” Almost immediately, former-GOP presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who co-sponsored the 2006 immigration bill that passed the Senate, toldhis Twitter following, “I agree with calls for comprehensive immigration reform.” The plan to document immigrants was even endorsed by major conservative pundits Charles Krauthammer and Sean Hannity last week.

Even better than the generic calls for “reform” are the contents of the plan that the Senators are proposing. Graham told CBS’s Bob Schieffer that he wants to “fix it in a way that we don’t have a third wave of illegal immigration twenty years from now.” What he and Sen. Schumer recognize is that the only way to do that is to create a legal pathway for entry for immigrants who want to work in the U.S. “[Americans] want more legal immigration,” Graham said, “and they want to fix illegal immigration once and for all.” Schumer echoed the same position on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying that their plan has “the real potential for bipartisan support based on the theory that most Americans are for legal immigration, but very much against illegal immigration.”

This facet of reform was exactly what Ronald Reagan’s 1986 reform lacked. It legalized workers already here, but without an accessible legal avenue for entry, desperate low-skilled foreign workers crossed the border illegally or overstayed their temporary work visas, which restarted the problem all over again. While immigration restrictionists want to blame lackluster immigration enforcement for the problem, the real blame lies with basic economics. Like all black markets, America’s black market in labor was created by government. By preventing legal entry, it sent otherwise law-abiding workers underground.

Graham and Schumer want to allow unauthorized immigrants to pay a fine in lieu of the current punishment — deportation and a ten year ban on reentry. They want to create a pathway to citizenship for those immigrants who 1) have jobs, 2) learn English, 3) pay taxes, and 4) have no criminal history. Graham told CBS that his plan would delay eligibility for a green card (the first step to citizenship) for up to a decade. Schumer told NBC that he would have unauthorized immigrants “move to the back of the line” for naturalization.

Schumer and Graham also called for some form of national ID and for additional penalties for employers who hire unauthorized workers. These are proposals that small government conservatives and civil libertarians should reject. Americans and business owners should not be responsible for immigration enforcement. National ID violates Americans’ privacy and carries within it the potential for government abuse. If the government wants to restrict entry into the U.S., they should do so themselves, not shift the costs onto the private sector.

A free market means an open market. Free trade, travel, and migration are cornerstones for any country that claims to uphold the banner of liberty. Economics demonstrates the benefits of peaceful interaction between people of different nations, and the principle that underlies the free market, free association, guarantees that Americans should be able to nonviolently associate, contract, and trade with anyone they want. Freedom entails openness, and immigration reform is one step toward that ideal.