Congressman Adam Kinzinger has established himself as an intelligent, articulate member of the House- except on immigration, where he muddles through poll-tested clichés whenever the topic comes up. This happened recently at a town hall meeting at Rock Valley College in Rockford (helpfully posted by an attendee on YouTube).
The Congressman was not speaking extemporaneously. One cannot pack so many hackneyed phrases and outright falsehoods into a single answer except through intense preparation. And this string of nonsense is also uttered by Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor, with whom Mr. Kinzinger ingratiated himself from his first election in 2010, when he was recruited by them to run and knocked off a Democratic incumbent.
Let’s count the clichés in this single answer:
1) We are a nation of immigrants (German in his case). This is, of course, false. More than 90% of Americans were born here. But repeated enough times, we all tend to accept it as true, an Orwellian tactic politicians are particularly adept at.
2) Our birthrate is declining (Mr. Kinzinger even pointed out he is childless, as if to prove we need a low-skilled Mexican to procreate in his stead). This is also false. The population is rising, and there is no evidence, at least he cited none, that we are in danger of lapsing into a period of falling population. And if the native American birthrate is falling to something less than 2 children per woman, then is the “solution” to use immigrants to pick up the slack rather than for their skills in the labor market? This has racist connotations, and can easily been seen as pandering to Hispanics, who have a much higher birthrate than whites. If that’s the argument-of-choice to be made by the Republican leadership to their woo Hispanics, be prepared for the 27% rate of support for Mitt Romney to drop, not increase.
The Congressman continued:
3) We can’t deport 11 million illegals. This is the straw man argument made by the Republican leadership to show there is no alternative to accepting illegals as permanent. But in the primaries Mitt Romney said the rarely spoken truth: the majority of illegals cannot stay here without jobs. Jobs (and selling drugs) are the magnets that bring them here. We can’t eliminate the demand for illegal drugs, but those who work in low-skilled occupations will find living in this country is impossible without employment. We call this “self-deportation” and it got a bad rap when Mitt Romney used it because he made it sound callous. But if it’s callous, we’re all callous. It remains the centerpiece of our immigration law.
Employers are required to check the status of new hires. The idea is to deprive illegal of employment and turn off the magnet that draws them here. All Romney and Kinzinger need to do is point this out. Nobody in the current debate is advocating ending the employment verification requirement. In fact, the Senate bill strengthens it by phasing in mandatory use of e-verify by all employers. Why not be serious and admit self-deportation is the goal, and the only way to deter future immigrants from trying to enter the country?
If workplace enforcement were seriously enforced, most of the 11 million would be gone within a year- without formal deportations. Can we afford to lose them? It would lower the unemployment rate to about 3%, and Republicans would become the friends of the lower middle class. Sure affluent voters may pay a little more to have their lawns mowed and homes cleaned, but is that why we want the 11 million here- to comfort the comfortable.
Mr. Kinzinger’s final cliché was that illegal immigrants here should get legal status immediately, and then “go to the back of the line” for citizenship, as if that’s a punishment. That is essentially what the Senate bill has done, allowed them to apply for citizenship in 13 years. That means those who entered illegally will suffer no real punishment for their crimes. They get to stay, their children get birthright citizenship immediately, they do not have to pay back taxes (only resolve any actual audits that are pending ), they are eligible for social security and medicare, and no criminal background check will be conducted in their home country (because this not possible given current technology, and Mexico refuses to cooperate).
So the illegal immigrants could be serial felons, terrorists, drug dealers, etc. We are rolling the dice. Not a bad deal for the illegals. But it’s quite bad for the rest of us. They will keep unemployment high and cost the taxpayers $6 trillion in more entitlements over the next two decades, according to the Heritage Foundation.
What is it about immigration that cases the Republican leadership, and their acolytes, like Adam Kinzinger, to speak in hackneyed clichés which do nothing but suggest they are ignorant of and condescending to both Hispanics and us American natives? They are still in shock from last November’s drubbing in which Romney got only 27% of the Hispanic vote. They have convinced themselves his “poor” showing was the result of his hardline anti-illegal immigration positions in the primaries, which “offended” Hispanic citizens and caused them to vote for the President.
There are two major flaws with this thesis: first, we have no evidence that Hispanic citizens who vote favor high levels of illegal immigration. After all, they are job seekers too and suffered mightily during the recession. Do they really favor many more low-skilled and poorly educated immigrants competing against them for scarce jobs in this weak economy? And that by speaking condescendingly toward Hispanics, praising their high birth-rate, supposed “family values” and desire to work hard, they will push an imaginary reset button with them. This is wrong on all counts.
People know when they’re being condescended to. Hispanics don’t have conservative social values. A majority are born out of wedlock and are on entitlement programs at disproportionately high rates and tend to live in liberal, urban, union-dominated areas. And for these reasons it makes little sense for them to vote for the party of less entitlements, management, and family values. We should reach out to groups who share our values.
Maybe as Congressman Kinzinger ponders a possible primary challenge from the loud and deeply flawed Joe Walsh, who will no doubt hit him hard on immigration from the right, he’ll get realistic about the topic and retire the clichés.
Howard Foster is a Chicago attorney specializing in immigration issues.