Republicans will have the next two years to set the immigration agenda in the House of Representatives. If their legislation looks anything like their campaign ads, there will be no way for illegal immigrants to get right with the law and no real solution to the problem of illegal immigration. Just a national doubling-down on enforcement, with still more border fencing and immigration agents, workplaces locked down, and states and localities setting police dragnets on what always was — and still ought to be — federal turf.
That hard-line approach mocks American values. It is irresponsibly expensive. It is ineffective.
Two of its architects will be leaders in the House Judiciary Committee, where immigration legislation is drafted: the next chairman, Lamar Smith of Texas; and Steve King of Iowa, who is in line to run the immigration subcommittee. Mr. Smith was the author of a 1996 law that bulked up enforcement and drastically increased deportations by limiting legal immigrants’ access to the justice system. It greatly expanded deportable offenses, and left many immigrants unable even to have their cases reviewed by a jud
The 1996 law and the billions subsequently thrown at border barriers and mass deportations have failed to deter illegal immigration. But this has not deterred Mr. Smith and Mr. King, who want to go further.
They support Arizona’s noxious efforts to give its law enforcement officers freer rein to demand people’s papers. Mr. King has gone so far as to defend racial profiling (which is illegal) as “legitimate law enforcement.” Both support the rapid imposition of E-Verify, an error-plagued electronic immigration database that every citizen would have to clear before being allowed to work.
Both want Congress to reinterpret the 14th Amendment to deprive children of illegal immigrants who are born on American soil of their citizenship. Hard-liners on the right derisively refer to these children as “anchor babies,” part of a plot to sponsor their parents for green cards.
Mr. King once stood in the House chamber assembling a mock-up of a border fence, with concrete wall panels and coiled wire on top, to show how simple immigration reform could be. We could electrify the wire, he said: “We do that with livestock all the time.”
It is not just Republicans like Mr. King and Mr. Smith who are set on doing far too much after years of accusing the government of doing too little on immigration. All the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter last month to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, accusing Immigration and Customs Enforcement of “a lax approach” for focusing more on dangerous criminals than on those with minor or no criminal records. They wondered why she hadn’t asked for more money so ICE could detain and deport every last illegal immigrant it finds, and demanded that she tell them exactly how much that might cost. (The head of ICE under President George W. Bush once gave the Senate a ballpark estimate: $94 billion. And that’s not counting the profound damage to the rule of law, democratic values and American’s already soiled reputation.)
Citizens who took this year’s Republican candidates at their word when they said they were concerned about deficits might logically ask where they plan to get these billions for border fences, detention beds and a national rollout of Arizona-style police enforcement. Or for armies of bureaucrats running a national citizenship registry. Once the 14th Amendment is overturned, a birth certificate won’t be enough to prove your baby is American.
Americans want Congress and the president to fix what’s broken and to spend less. The G.O.P.’s restrictionist immigration doctrine fails on both counts.