11/15/14

The immigration debate is all the rage since the President threatened to take executive action in the next few weeks.

To be clear, I am strongly pro-immigration and reform.

I believe that the border can and should be secured. The discussion of whether this will be 100% or 95% secure is irrelevant. Israel secured its border with the Palestinian West Bank and avoided most terror activities successfully. Israel secured its border with Egypt in Sinai to avoid exactly the same issue of illegal immigration and was very successful. If Israel can do that so can the US. A physical fence (double fence) augmented with electronic measures can do the job, and it must be done.

Another element of “securing” borders is to make sure that people who come in legally on short-term visas leave the country. I’m not exactly sure how that element of the system can be improved, but I am sure that it can since it is pretty lax now.

Once the above is agreed upon, the other reality is that there is no way to deport 11,000,000 people. It is not fair, it is not just, but it is practical. Sometimes we have to pay for the sins of the past. They are here and it is better if they are taken out of the shadows. No path to citizenship, absolutely not. They do not deserve it, but they should get permanent residency with all the benefits and obligation that this involves.

The final leg of the three-pronged approach should be to create a much better legal immigration system; both for low skill- and high-skill workers. The current system is crazy and is hurting the US. To those who say that immigrants take the place of US workers, the truth is that most of the low skill labor cover jobs that the US population by and large do not want to do. As to high skills, it is well established that they, on the whole, create more economic value than they “cost” and as such they create a positive impact. In any case, once it is legal the market will do its work. If US workers suddenly want to work in, say, agriculture they will compete for these jobs and will probably be better than the immigrants due to generally higher level of education, language, and, if done right, costs. The legal immigration system should provide for a fee to be paid for imported labor together with adherence to the same wage and benefits rule as for Americans. This can and should be resolved.

Now to the politics…

The President is playing a high stakes game of Mexican standoff (excuse the pun, which is very relevant here and if it is not PC to use this term, well… you all know what I think of PC speech).

Contrary to what he is saying, and to what everyone seems to be saying, it is my belief that Obama does not really intend, or even want, to take executive action on this matter; he just wants to extort some commitments and obligations from Republicans on this issue. This President and his team are master negotiators and they have outmaneuvered Republicans many times before. It is time for Republicans to learn from their past mistakes.

After all, the threatened action as described by the leaks to the media is actually absolutely meaningless. What? You will not deport 5,000,000 people? Really. As if without such action you would deport them. They are not being deported anyway, so what is the big deal???

It is so clear that this action can, and is likely to be, reversed by either Congress or the next President that I predict that it will have zero effect on the ground. Those in the shadows will mostly remain in the shadows and those who did plan to illegally cross the border will not now because of this feckless executive action decision to come.

My recommendation to Republicans: Give him nothing. Play his game. Raise the stakes in this standoff. It is a win for them either way—if they play it right.

If the President backs down without any concession from Republicans, he would be shown to be weak and this will pave the way for many more battles during the next two years.

If he is forced to take executive action (in my view against his will), Republicans should make the most of it in the following ways:

  • Highlight time and time again that it is the President who is taking unilateral action, even though the elections were a clear sign that the voters do not approve of him doing it. He is the partisan divider and confrontationist in chief.
  • Deride the sudden urgency to do it now, within a few weeks after the elections. Why now? Why not in his first two years when he had complete Democratic control of Congress and comfortable majorities?
  • Be contemptuous of the suggestion that he did not do it then because he was focused on health care. What, he cannot walk and chew gum at the same time? He actually did just that, literally, in the formal reception in Beijing last week to the scorn of Chinese and world media, who found the spectacle of the leader of the free world chewing gum in an official reception ranging from rude to simply lack of style. By the way, they are right!
  • Quote the President time and again stating publicly in 2011, and other times, that he does not have the constitutional power to take the action that he is now proposing to take. While, personally, I am not a constitutional scholar, I actually believe that he can take that action—but this is not the point. He went out repeatedly in front of Latin crowds and defended his lack of action by him saying that he does not have the power. To do it now looks bad whichever way you look at it. Either he threw sand in their eyes then or he is doing something unconstitutional now.
  • Make the most of the fact that, by his action, he poisoned the well and continue with their agenda without any change from what it was before. By taking this action and being painted as unilateralist, partisan hack (which he is), the President will make it harder for himself to veto other legislation that comes to his desk. Remember, any legislation that comes to his desk—by definition—has some Democratic support; otherwise it will not pass the Senate.
  • Finally and most important, use this executive action as an excuse to do nothing on immigration. Simply consign this issue until after the 2016 elections. The fact that they do not have to handle it before 2016 will make it much easier politically for Republicans, especially as they can effectively blame the President. It is unlikely to be the wedge issue, given the executive action. A wise Republican nominee for the presidency can and should make it clear that one of his highest priorities, if elected, will be to sort out this issue permanently and on strong foundation, as opposed to the mess that Obama made of this issue.

All in all, the President taking executive action on immigration now can be the best thing that will happen to Republicans and they should let the President twist in the wind.