"Immigration reform will not occur until conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told the United States Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. "I am here today to begin that conversation."
Paul should be commended for furthering a much-needed conservative conversation on immigration reform. But the core of the proposal he set forth shares the same fatal flaw as past failed immigration efforts: It links the achievement of border security with that of granting status to those currently in the U.S. illegally.
"In order to bring conservatives to this cause however," Paul said, "those who work for reform must understand that a real solution must ensure that our borders are secure. ... I would have Congress vote each year for five years whether to approve or not approve a report on whether or not we are securing the border." Only if Congress approved said report would illegal immigrants be allowed to obtain citizenship, Paul later confirmed to reporters on a conference call.
As policy, this is terrible. As politics, it is even worse.
These annual votes would have absolutely nothing to do with actual security facts on the ground at our nation's borders. Instead, they would instantly become annual referenda on amnesty, portrayed by the mainstream media as referenda on whether Republicans hate Hispanics. Democrats would use this annual vote to further alienate Republicans from immigrant communities every year.
In policy terms, the problem posed by millions of illegal immigrants already living and working in the United States has very little to do with border security. With the flow of illegal immigrants slowed to a trickle, violence near the nation's borders today is driven almost entirely by the drug war, not illegal immigration. It's also worth mentioning that many illegal immigrants never crossed a border illegally. About half of the ones currently in the United States came here by entering on a visa legally and overstaying it illegally.
More importantly, national security is the primary function of the federal government, to which the laws of naturalization are clearly subordinate. Members of Congress and the president of the United States have all taken sworn oaths to secure the nation's borders.
No politician, liberal or conservative, should ever talk of border security as if it was some bargaining chip to obtain in exchange for anything. But that is exactly what Paul's plan, and Sen. Marco Rubio's, R-Fla., Gang of Eight framework, do.
The political parties seem much closer to a consensus on conferring status on illegal immigrants than they have been in decades. And nearly everyone agrees on the need for border security. There is no need to hold either of these issues hostage to the other. If lawmakers take their oaths seriously, they will deal with border security on its own merits, simply because it is their grave constitutional duty. They will then discuss immigration reform on its own merits, because it's the right thing to do.