Why ‘enforcement-first’ tactic won’t work for immigration

Photo: Gage Skidmore

Senator Marco Rubio (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

I’m following with interest the criticisms being directed at United States Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio is a conservative Republican from Florida who defeated an establishment Republican incumbent in 2010. Back then, candidate Rubio was an “enforcement-first” backer of immigration reform. Today, Senator Rubio argues that efforts to legalize undocumented immigrants already living in the United States have to precede any other component of immigration reform.

Talking to Sean Hannity, Rubio explained why enforcement-first wouldn’t work, he said,

That was my position: Let’s do the fence first and then let’s worry about it. Here is the problem and why I kind of felt that the other way may be better. The 11 million that are here now illegally, we want to know who they are as soon as possible. We don’t want that number to become 12, 13, 14. Because we cut this off, we say you had to have been here by December of 2011. You have to be able to prove that you were here by December of 2011. Well, I don’t want this word to get out that once [we] are done securing the border, then [we] are going to legalize people, because then you will have a rush.

For his opinion Rubio has been castigated from The Heritage Foundation in D.C. to the caucuses of Iowa as a supporter of amnesty for his work to pass the Senate immigration bill. I can relate. When Sutherland Institute came out in favor of state-based comprehensive immigration reform for Utah, I was called just about every name in the book and, mostly, my conservative credentials were questioned.

I have to admit: I haven’t read the 1,000-plus-page immigration bill. Having worked in Congress, I can tell you that a 1,000 page bill about anything probably has 999 pages of nefarious substance and one page of good. Sometimes the one page of good outweighs the other 999 pages of bad.

A big problem requires big ideas and, from all that I can tell, the Senate immigration bill is trying to address some huge problems. I agree with Senator Rubio: Legalization of the millions of undocumented immigrants already living in our country should be the priority. As I argued here in Utah, only first by pushing undocumented immigrants to the surface of society can we ever hope to get a handle on the illegalities associated within the shadows of immigration.

As conservatives, we should oppose massive efforts to militarize our southern border. We do not support a police state. That border needs more reinforcement than anything Border Patrol, the National Guard, or even our federal military can throw at it – it needs a healthy economy in Mexico and diplomatic relations that aggressively work with Mexico to return its economy to a free market (especially free of its drug cartels). I often wonder why self-avowed conservatives prefer a police state build-up to alternative ideas that actually advance freedom?

I’m not a big supporter of a pathway to citizenship as an ideological cause. I believe that future citizenship is a function of current legalization and possible only after newly legalized immigrants have proven themselves worthy. But who knows? Maybe legalized immigrants might actually increase the standard of citizenship we citizens have seemed to abdicate in the age of Obama? The process is worth the risks, in my opinion.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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  • Andrea

    I like your thinking. We should apply this to marijuana as well. The best way to get rid of illegal anything is to make it legal. If we legalized marijuana, we would no longer have a problem with illegal marijuana. If we legalized all or nearly all immigration, we wouldn’t have an illegal immigration problem.