By: John Hayward
4/22/2014 08:59 AM
A battle line within the GOP is drawn a bit more sharply, as Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a member of the “Gang of Eight” immigration reform group, declared on Facebook that he agreed with former Florida governor and possible presidential contender Jeb Bush’s description of illegally crossing the United States border as an “act of love”:
A few weeks ago, Jeb Bush made a statement that has garnered a great deal of attention. He noted that for some illegal immigrants, crossing the border could be considered an “act of love” because it was motivated by a desire to feed and care for their families.
I’ve been asked what I think of this statement. Truth is, I agree with Jeb, and I applaud him for having the guts to say it. Growing up here in Arizona, I’ve seen what motivates those who come here illegally. Sure, some come with the intent to do harm or simply to take advantage of our generosity. But many come to find work to feed their families. To lump everyone who crosses the border illegally into the same class is unfair and unproductive.
Recognizing motivations does not change the fact that we need a secure border. We need to give employers the tools to determine who is here illegally and who is not. We need more robust temporary worker programs that account for our labor needs. We need to reform our legal immigration program to better reflect our economic needs going forward, and we need a mechanism to deal with those who are already here illegally in a rational manner.
I hold no brief for Jeb Bush, but having such a prominent Republican speak so humanely and unapologetically about the motivations behind many of those who have come to reside in this country is good for all of us.
The political strategy behind this “act of love” stuff has three dimensions. First, it’s a (doomed) effort to win some credit for compassion, which the media denies to Republicans by default. Even the greediest, most corrupt, highest-rolling Democrat gets automatic credit for humane good intentions; their ideology is taken as proof of their humanity. Republicans, on the other hand, have to demonstrate they’re not heartless monsters. Spoiler warning for Sen. Flake and Jeb Bush: you can’t. No matter how many concessions you make to liberalism, you’ll always be judged as inferior to Democrats in the Big Heart department, and they’ll always stand ready to outbid you in the pander games. They’ll lavish vote-buying benefits on the newly legalized population, and you Republican amnesty pushers will instantly revert to callous-brute status when you object. Nobody will remember that you were once willing to excuse violations of U.S. law because you thought so highly of the violators.
Second, this is a specific pander to the Hispanic voter. That won’t work, either. The legal and native-born Hispanic population cares much less about illegal immigration than media mythology holds; it’s useful to Democrats primarily as a negative wedge issue, giving them an opportunity to paint Republicans opposed to amnesty as racist xenophobes. (For an exceptionally crude and offensive version of this appeal, consider House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently claiming that Republicans would have no problem granting blanket amnesty, if only the illegal immigrants were Irish. She actually claimed she had overheard Republicans explicitly saying this to Irish people.)
Beyond taking the sharp edge off wedge application of the amnesty debate, the Hispanic vote will not be significantly moved by Republicans moving to legalize some portion of the illegal population. Taken at his word, even Sen. Flake doesn’t want to grant amnesty to all of them; the Democrats do, and they’ll savage people like Flake and Bush for whatever objections they eventually raise to handing out citizenship to the illegal aliens who aren’t clearly motivated by “acts of love.” More broadly, how many more polls do we need to demonstrate that the Hispanic voter is far more comfortable with Big Government than any recognizably conservative member of the Republican Party? The GOP amnesty caucus will spend the day after Election Day, for generations to come, wringing their hands and wondering why they weren’t rewarded for their citizenship generosity with a bigger portion of the Latino vote.
Third, this “act of love” stuff is an attempt to import left-wing Alinsky tactics into an intra-party battle against conservative Republican amnesty opponents. If illegal immigration is an act of love, then opponents of amnesty are, by definition, hateful. If Bush, Flake, and Republicans who agree with them have “guts” for praising those family-loving border violators, then their opponents are, by definition, cowards. A moral argument is being deployed to short-circuit rational debate.
What the Act of Love caucus doesn’t realize is that this kind of intra-party nuclear warfare tends to leave them radioactive, too. They’re doing something Democrats are generally smart enough to avoid: fighting each other with arguments that taint the entire GOP brand. Down-ticket, those “act of love” quotes are the kind of cudgel that can beat Republican candidates away from winnable seats. What voters will remember, with a good deal of prodding from Democrats and their media allies, is that even a few Republicans agree that illegal immigrants are noble souls who just love their families… and the rest of the Republican Party wants to stuff them in boxes and ship them back across the border.
But leave all those elements of political strategy aside, take Sen. Flake completely at his word, and unpack the logic of his Facebook post. ”Sure, some come with the intent to do harm or simply to take advantage of our generosity,” he concedes. ”But many come to find work to feed their families. To lump everyone who crosses the border illegally into the same class is unfair and unproductive.”
Okay… how does Sen. Flake propose to separate the illegal aliens who crossed the border as an “act of love,” which the United States should reward with unearned citizenship, from the dastardly villains who came to “do harm” or “take advantage of our generosity?” Does having a wife and children automatically absolve someone of all suspicion that they broke our immigration laws to take advantage of the American system? If not, how do we go about separating the noble illegal-alien families from the undesirable ones? Does anyone really think this will end with one set of citizenship standards for Act of Lovers, and another for illegals who cross the border without children?
“Recognizing motivations does not change the fact that we need a secure border,” said Senator Flake. Oh, yes it does. Otherwise, why bring motivations up at all? It’s not a “secure border” if prospective violators know they can grab a free American citizenship by appealing to the entirely subjective judgment of the American political class – just “prove” you crossed the border as an “act of love,” and you’re in.
Also, if we have compassion for loving families who just want to access the American Dream (and its generous social benefits), how can we justify confronting them with effective border security, obliging them to make perilous journeys across no-man’s-land with the aid of dangerous criminals?
Once we accept that citizenship is not a precious treasure protected by firm standards, but rather a goodie for the Ruling Class to distribute as it sees fit – no matter what objections legal immigrants and native-born citizens raise – we’re talking about politics, not law. Laws are not waived because the violator has a family, as the many people with children currently imprisoned for a variety of offenses can tell you. Isn’t stealing money to feed, clothe, and shelter your family an “act of love,” too?
No doubt the Act of Love caucus would strenuously insist they have no intention of nullifying any other laws according to these subjective standards – immigration “law” is a special case. And that’s what this all boils down to: immigration is “different” than other laws. The Ruling Class is increasingly less interested in diverting time, money, and political capital to performing difficult duties it finds distasteful, such as policing the border. When there are political benefits to disregarding those duties – votes to be harvested, cheap labor to be imported – we get these comical theatrical performances in which politicians pretend to be agonized over a decision that really isn’t difficult for them at all.
Maybe we should just be honest about where we’re going, throw the borders open, disband Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and shift those resources into law enforcement against the sort of offenses we do still prosecute with impartial vigor. After all, there’s really no other practical way to separate the “do harm and take advantage of our generosity” types from the Act of Love folks, other than waving them all into the United States and waiting for the former group to distinguish themselves by committing a crime. If we’re supposed to feel guilty and ashamed of describing border violators as criminals, it’s unreasonable to have a law for them to violate. Legalize what they’re doing, without the kind of subjective qualifications we would accept for no other law, and be done with it.