THE POLITICS OF...

THE POLITICS OF IMMIGRATION BILLS. I think Matt is misusing the Daniel Davies dictum that "good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance." As Matt shows, the RNC is telling a lot of lies to make this bill seem more supportable to its members. Not to be too crude about this, but if the Republican base thinks this immigration bill is a bad idea, that seems like a fairly serious argument in its favor. After all, what they're trying to evade is the perception that it represents an amnesty. They're lying. It is an amnesty. And I think amnesty is the only realistic and humane way forward. So in this case, telling lies to make people with bad opinions think this is a good idea doesn't reflect poorly on its merits.

The real catch is the guest worker program. Greg Anrig has a strong and passionate denunciation of its inclusion, saying, "[There] are three basic traits that distinguish progressives from movement conservatives: our moral values derive from a fundamental belief that basic human rights should be respected for all individuals; if a public policy has failed over and over in the past, we learn from the experience and don't repeat the same mistake; and we consider the economic well-being of average workers to be far more important than the wish list of corporate lobbyists. The guest worker provisions of the Senate immigration deal clearly violate all three of those principles." He follows this up by detailing the sorry and even scary history of guest worker programs in the past.

But here's what I need to be convinced on: Putting aside the tweaks Reid and Pelosi can make through the legislative process, the choice looks to me like this bill or nothing. My hunch is that a solid Democratic government couldn't get this far out on immigration without potentially provoking a nativist backlash, and so they wouldn't. And nor does it look like any of the Republican contenders would be substantially more liberal or independent on this issue than Bush has proven himself. The 12 million undocumented immigrants are a pressing problem, and I would, if this were my only choice, bring them into the light of American society and labor laws even at the cost of a guest worker program.

So sketch me out a situation wherein we get an amnesty without a guest worker program. Matt thinks that "insofar as the political dynamic produces a polarized choice between pro- and anti-immigration positions, the business community -- i.e. the constituency for guest worker programs -- is going to need to side with the pro-immigration view. There's no reason to accept a giant guest worker program as part of a political compromise. Things should move in the other direction." Sadly, that looks at least as likely to cut the other way, as the business community doesn't mind illegals, and immigrant advocates need business support at least as much as the other way around.

--Ezra Klein

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