Thursday, July 13, 2006

Republicans and the immigration debate

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an Op-Ed piece entitled, “A Conservative Statement for Immigration Reform,” signed by 33 establishment conservatives (e.g. Jack Kemp, George Shultz, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and Bill Kristol). They ask what conservatives often ask when confronted with a dilemma: WWRD? What would Reagan do? Reagan, they say, would support the Senate bill, and they blame the ills of IRCA (passed in 1986) on the inability of future administrations to address enforcement. Thus, “The best way—the only way—to realize President Reagan’s vision is through comprehensive immigration reform legislation.”

Incidentally, this is not a common way of interpreting IRCA, because President Reagan signed a bill that explicitly made it easy for businesses to avoid penalties for hiring illegal immigrants. Congress ensured that enforcement would be lax, so there was little future administrations could’ve done without revamping it (as President Clinton would do, though equally unsuccessfully, ten years later).

At about the same time, President Clinton was quoted as praising President Bush’s stance on immigration: “I'm proud of him for doing it and I thanked him for doing it.” Another example of how this debate has created strange bedfellows.


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