Less than two weeks after the Senate passed a historic immigration reform bill by a bipartisan 68-32 margin, opponents of reform have already started peddling a bevy of reality-defying excuses about why the House of Representatives should not follow suit. Faced with overwhelming support from stakeholders and groups across the political spectrum—from the Service Employees International Union, the AFL-CIO, and the National Council of La Raza, to the American Action Forum, Americans for Tax Reform, and the American Conservative Union—opponents of reform are grasping at straws in their effort to block reform from happening.
In potentially the most extreme example, William Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry of the National Review laid their cards on the table, urging the House to refuse to bring any bill to conference with the Senate for fear that immigration reform might actually pass. In their desperation, this small group of immigration opponents has coalesced around the following four arguments against the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, or S. 744, each of which requires a suspension of reality:
- The Senate shut the American people out of the process of immigration reform by writing the bill behind closed doors.
- Immigration reform will hurt working-class Americans.
- The Obama administration will refuse to implement the border-security and enforcement strategies written into the bill.
- Republicans can simply ignore Latino voters and continue to win elections by maximizing their share of white voters.
These arguments wither under scrutiny.
Myth No. 1: Congress shut the American people out of the process of immigration reform. In their joint op-ed, titled “Kill the Bill,” Kristol and Lowry argue that because of “the sheer size of the bill and the hasty manner in which it was amended and passed,” it should be defeated in the House, while Michael Patrick Leahy of Brietbart News argued that it is “unlikely any of the 68 Senators who voted in favor of it had read the entire bill.”
Fact: Even Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who led the opposition to S. 744 on the Senate floor, praised the “open and transparent” way that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) held hearings, as well as the committee’s markup of the bill. There were 71 days between when the bill was introduced in committee and when it was voted on, giving members and the public more than ample time to read the bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee spent five separate days debating the bill, considering a total of 212 suggested amendments and adopting more than 90 of them, the vast majority of which had bipartisan support. The full Senate then spent three weeks working on the bill before voting. At each step of the process, all parts of the bill and the amendments were posted online, giving anyone the opportunity to read through the changes and comment on each one.
Myth No. 2: Immigration reform will harm working-class and middle-class Americans. Jay Cost of The Weekly Standard and Fred Bauer of the National Review—not inconsequentially, both are writers for the very same magazines as Kristol and Lowry—in a pair of columns published on Monday, dredge up many of the misguided arguments that The Heritage Foundation has been pushing for months about immigrants being uniformly lesser-skilled workers who hurt the wages of lesser-skilled Americans.
Fact: The reality is that economists have repeatedly found that immigrants do not bring down the wages of lesser-skilled Americans and instead find that immigrants actually have small but positive effects on native workers’ wages and job prospects. These positive effects arise because immigrants tend to complement, rather than compete with, native workers; are consumers who spend money in the economy, stimulating business demand; and are entrepreneurial, starting businesses and helping to employ American workers.
Cost and Bauer also fail to take into account the fact that immigration reform itself will improve the American economy, creating jobs and prosperity for all Americans. Studies have found that legalized workers earn higher wages, which in turn means they pay more in taxes. These higher wages circulate through the economy: Providing legal status to the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country would create 121,000 jobs each year, raise the wages of all Americans by $470 billion, and increase our gross domestic product by a cumulative $832 billion over a decade.
Legalizing immigrants would also support the solvency of the Social Security system during its period of greatest strain over the next three-and-a-half decades, as the Baby Boomers—America’s largest generation—retire and begin to claim their benefits. During this period newly legalized immigrants would add a total of $606 billion to the system, supporting 2.4 million American retirees.
Finally, as the Congressional Budget Office points out, S. 744 would also go far in reducing the deficit, saving $158 billion over the first decade and $685 billion over the second decade.
Myth No. 3: The administration will simply decline to implement border security and enforcement. Kristol and Lowry, as well as Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), have alleged that the administration’s decision this week to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate—which requires that businesses provide health insurance for their workers—gives them reason to believe that either this or a future administration will simply decline to implement any of the border-security or enforcement provisions of S. 744.
Fact: Trying to leverage Obamacare implementation as an argument against immigration reform is breathtakingly cynical. It attempts to distract readers from the bill itself by ginning up an emotional response to a wholly unrelated issue. As Slate’s Matthew Yglesias puts it, “This plays well to the hard-right prejudice that Barack Obama is too much of a black Muslim socialist foreigner to be a legitimate president, and that his very presence in office suspends the ordinary rules of constructive governance.”
The bill itself includes specific triggers, before which no immigrants can complete the pathway to citizenship. If the Obama administration or a future administration chooses to delay or not implement the border-security provisions in the bill—including doubling the number of Border Patrol agents on the southern border, building 700 miles of fencing, deploying $40 billion in technology, implementing mandatory E-Verify for all employers, and implementing a full electronic exit system to track visa over-stayers—then not a single person with the temporary Registered Provisional Immigrant status can become a permanent resident. It is as simple as that.
Believing that the administration would somehow decline to secure the border flies in the face of increasingly harsh and expansive immigration-enforcement policies that have taken place over the past 20 years. The pundits calling for border security to precede other reforms willfully ignore that our national policy has been to spend a king’s ransom on adding more personnel and technology onto the southern border than ever before. In addition to the literal militarization of the border, with the stationing of National Guard troops there, we have deported more than 3 million people over the past 10 years, with record-breaking numbers—more than 400,000 people per year under the current administration. The United States currently spends more each year on immigration enforcement than on all other federal law enforcement combined. At 21,394, the number of Border Patrol agents is more than double the number of agents a decade ago, and apprehensions at the southern border, which the Department of Homeland Security uses as a proxy for the number of people who try to cross each year, are at their lowest point in 40 years.
As The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page points out, “For some Republicans, border security has become a ruse to kill reform.”
Myth No. 4: The Republican Party can ignore Latino voters and still win elections. In a four-part series for RealClearPolitics, an online journalism hub, Sean Trende argues against the idea that Republicans need to focus on appeasing the Latino voting bloc by passing immigration reform. Instead, he says, Republicans can ignore Latino voters and work on winning a greater percentage of the white vote. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter took this idea even further, arguing that the GOP “deserves to die” if it helps immigration reform pass and calling Latino voters only “a small portion of the electorate.”
Fact: The idea that the Republican Party should focus only on its white base by rejecting immigration reform relies on fallacious premises, highly dubious future projections, and a disturbing view of whose interests the party should represent—i.e., only white Americans.
The substance of this mythical argument is fundamentally inaccurate. Trende argues that potentially millions of white voters failed to vote in 2012, and if these eligible voters were to visit the polls in future elections, there would be no need to make in-roads with other groups. But as demographers Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz point out, this analysis is fatally flawed, disregarding the fact that turnout among all voters—including Latinos, Asians, and African Americans, as well as white voters—was low in 2012. Adding back minority voters along with white voters in future elections leaves Republicans in the same demographic dilemma as they are currently in: As Nate Cohn puts it in The New Republic, “to counter [these] demographic changes by 2016, the GOP will need broader appeal than it’s had since 1984.”
As Public Policy Polling finds, this approach may not even help them in the immediate term—in the 2014 midterm elections—before the dual demographic trends of shrinking white populations and rising Latino populations accelerate even more. That poll showed that seven key Republican-held House seats could be up for grabs if immigration reform fails to pass. Between 61 percent and 69 percent of voters in these districts in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, and New York support the Senate bill, with more than three-quarters of voters in each district arguing that it is important to pass immigration reform this year.
Most importantly, as conservative pundit Karl Rove illustrates, focusing only on the immediate gains to be had from white voters is a long-term strategy of political suicide that rejects the changing face of America and does not embrace the demographic reality of the 21st century. Likewise, as polling from Americans for a Conservative Direction makes clear, Republican voters themselves support immigration reform in droves: 96 percent of surveyed Republican voters said that it was very important or somewhat important to fix the immigration system, while two-thirds voiced support for a pathway to citizenship when coupled with additional border security.
As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post points out, these myths are being put forward by opponents of immigration reform, who are looking for any reason to kill S. 744 and try to escape the blame for its failure. The fact of the matter is that the Senate-passed immigration reform bill is a strong bipartisan compromise that will bring our nation’s immigration laws into the 21st century. It includes a significant investment in border security and interior enforcement, modernizes future immigration to the United States, and puts 11 million people on the path to citizenship and to becoming full and equal members of society. Simply opposing immigration on its face or with fallacious facts is no longer an option.
Marshall Fitz is Director of Immigration Policy and Philip E. Wolgin is Senior Policy Analyst for Immigration at the Center for American Progress.