Jack Kelly: Immigration simplification

It's easy, the GOP should just do what the American people want

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Illegal immigration triggers suicidal impulses in Republicans of all stripes.

This is odd, because on no major issue are rank-and-file Republicans, Democrats and Independents more nearly in agreement, and no big problem confronting this country is easier to fix.

We should be outraged that more than 11 million people are in this country illegally. But we should direct our ire at the politicians in both parties who’ve been derelict in their duty to secure the border.

Instead, in what may be the most egregious example ever of political stupidity, many conservatives attack the illegals who work long hours at scut jobs to provide a better life for their families.

What most Americans — and most Hispanics — say they want in an immigration reform bill is essentially what conservatives want.

• Border security should be the top priority, said 62 percent of respondents in a CNN/​ORC poll last June. More must be done to secure the border, said 60 percent of Hispanic voters in a Latino Options poll in July.

Illegal immigration could be reduced to a nuisance if a security fence were built in high traffic areas along the Mexican border.

“When I was a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first line of defense was always a physical perimeter,” said Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a Harvard-trained lawyer turned Army Ranger. “That’s because fences work.”

The fence Israelis built to keep out Palestinian terrorists reduced terror incidents by 90 percent. A fence in the San Diego sector reduced border crossings by 95 percent.

Build the fence, said 64 percent of respondents in an ABC News/​Washington Post poll in July.

• Businesses should be required to check the immigration status of employees, said 77 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll in June. Hispanic voters support the E-verify system, 64-29.

• Foreign engineers and scientists who earn graduate degrees in the United States should be permitted to stay to work, said 78 percent in the Gallup poll.

• Otherwise law-abiding illegals, if they stay off welfare, pay a fine and learn English, after a long waiting period should be permitted to apply for citizenship, said 69 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of Independents and 87 percent of Democrats in a CBS poll in October.

Desperate to mend fences with Hispanics who suspect conservatives are more hostile to immigrants than concerned about insecure borders, panicky Senate Republicans backed a bill which would reduce future illegal immigration by no more than 50 percent, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

Big mistake. Americans won’t support “reform” that doesn’t do Job One. When respondents to a Rasmussen poll in July were told about the CBO analysis, support for the Senate bill plunged to 39 percent.

Many conservatives wouldn’t support a bill that did secure the border if it threatened to enfranchise millions of new Democrats. They call any “path to citizenship,” no matter how stringent, “amnesty.”

Granting legal status to those who “pass a criminal background check, pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line” and receive no government benefits isn’t “amnesty,” said 58 percent of Republican primary voters polled by the Tarrance Group.

The net new Democrats added by such a “path to citizenship” wouldn’t be enough “to flip any states in the Electoral College,” said Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende.

If Republicans had the wit to attack the problem instead of illegal immigrants and each other, they’d draft a bill that does exactly — and only — what big majorities of Americans say they want:

Build the border fence. Track those who overstay their visas. Expedite deportation of illegals who commit felonies. Require businesses to check immigration status. Give priority to foreigners with skills.

For Hispanics, relieving fear of deportation is far more important than citizenship, according to a Pew poll in December.

Illegals shouldn’t be made eligible for benefits until the border is 90 percent secure, said 56 percent of Hispanic voters in the Latino Options survey.

It would impose no burden on taxpayers if legal status — but not eligibility for welfare, green cards or citizenship — were granted. So lift fear of “las autoridades de inmagracion” right away; make benefits contingent upon border security.

Such a bill would please the vast majority of Americans, satisfy most Hispanics, solve the problem. It’d be fun to watch Democrats try to justify opposing it.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).

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