Illegal Immigration as ‘Slavery’?

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Marco Rubio’s press secretary, Alex Conant, might wish to cease his demagoguery when he’s behind. After replying to a skeptic of “comprehensive immigration reform” with ahistorical nonsense like, “We haven’t had a cohort of people living permanently in US without full rights of citizenship since slavery,” he compounds his problems with his “clarification:” “The point I was trying to make (in 140 characters) is that allowing immigrants to apply for permanent residence, but not eventually be able to apply for the full benefits of citizenship, has been tried and failed, and has had disastrous social consequences in Europe today.”

Millions of visitors of all statuses are already quite free to apply for both permanent residence and citizenship. It is called going into the immigration office, and beginning the process by applying for a green card. Today’s illegal immigrants were not braceros, who were brought in officially by the U.S. and Mexican governments as permanent guest workers, but rather on their own volition chose to come into the United States — and in at least 11 million instances to do so illegally. At any time in their unlawful residency, they had the choice to rectify that lapse and apply to become legal residents and eventually citizens, in the way that millions of others worldwide, who are not so close to our borders, now wait patiently and legally for just that opportunity. The problem was not apparently the freedom to apply, but the uncertainty whether such applications would always be approved.

Mr. Conant in his “140 characters” managed to use the accustomed linguistic gymnastics to cloud the issue at hand. The issue is not “immigrants” but dealing with “illegal immigrants”; the question is not “allowing immigrants to apply,” but whether or not to change federal law to suit illegal immigrants who in the past have not chosen to apply for legal residence.

And under current law, every legal resident (apparently even the Tsarnaev brothers) are quite free to “apply for the full benefits of citizenship.” That again is not the question; the real issue hinges once more on what sort of exemptions should be granted to millions who broke federal immigration law but who now constitute a powerful enough political force to have the law changed for their own benefit. Should we weep or cry when Conant says that “allowing immigrants to apply for permanent residence, but not eventually be able to apply for the full benefits of citizenship, has been tried and failed, and has had disastrous social consequences in Europe today” — given that a “guest worker” provision is often floated as a key component of “comprehensive immigration program” and is about as close to the European notion of Gastarbeiter imaginable, and surreal in an economy of chronic 7.5-plus percent unemployment, a rate that is far higher among minority and youth, who would be most affected by importing millions of “temporary” and largely unskilled foreign-national job seekers.

The strange thing about the Republican members in the Gang of Eight debate is that to ram through immigration legislation, they and their supporters are beginning to adopt the same sort of tactics that we have seen used by the Left during the fights over Obamacare and gun control: obfuscate the issue by imprecise vocabulary and ahistorical allusions; demonize your opponents with all sorts of crazy accusations of quasi-tolerance of “slavery” to abortion; create a false sort of urgency (we are supposed to pass this very minute the huge and mostly unread immigration bill in the manner of the huge and unread Obamacare bill); and speak loftily of principles and humanitarianism when the issue is mostly driven by electoral politics and demography.

Finally, given the language of Conant and others, they are managing to turn off their own reasonable supporters, who are more than willing to consider a “pathway to citizenship” for those who are free of a criminal past, are not on public assistance, and are long-term residents — if only the assurances to enforce those provisions and ensure border security were believable. The present hysteria, invective, and mass rush to legislate suggest that they might not be.

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