We were told he'd be a chief spokesman -- if not the chief spokesman -- for the 'gang of eight' compromise, and so far he's living up to that billing. In addition to making a (second) blitz on conservative talk radio, Rubio released a quick-and-dirty summary of the legislation on YouTube. No frills, just a short, digestible, unscripted break-down of how the bill is designed. Give it a quick watch, then scroll down for some analysis:
It seems to me that Rubio's tactical goals are threefold here: First, to get his side of the story out before opponents start torching the bill -- which is smart, regardless of how you come down on reform. Second, to woo conservatives, with whom he has a strong brand. It's already working in some quarters; even those who aren't necessarily fans of the plan are giving him props for entering the fray and having the discussion. Third, to telegraph a spirit of openness and engagement, which is why he's also promising to ensure a lengthy and robust debate on the subject. He's talking weeks, not hours or days. A few more points: (1) I'm a little surprised that he starts out by describing the guest worker program, rather than underscoring border enforcement. Once he gets to that topic, however, he goes for the gold: "I can say, without reservation, that the enforcement package that we've come up with as part of this idea are the most stringent and strictest immigration enforcement laws in the history of the United States." Byron York wonders, is it, really?
The most serious ambiguity might be in the concept of “effectiveness rate.” How will Napolitano, or her successor at the Department of Homeland Security, determine when the effectiveness rate reaches 90 percent? The calculation has to start somewhere, and it is with the total number of people attempting to cross the border illegally. Napolitano has to certify that the Department of Homeland Security is catching nine out of ten of them — a calculation that starts with that total number of illegal crossing attempts. That’s where the confusion will come in. New ways of surveying the border have shown that the Department has greatly underestimated the number of people attempting to cross any given part of the border. Experimental programs with the new drone-based Vader surveillance system have shown that at least twice as many illegal immigrants crossed the border in some areas as were apprehended.
That means the government, which thought it had a pretty high apprehension rate, was actually catching less than 50 percent of illegal crossers. So now, if the new 90 percent standard becomes law, how would the effectiveness rate be calculated? Would it be 90 percent of the old, pre-Vader estimates of illegal immigrants crossing the border? If so, that would likely mean that in fact the U.S. would be apprehending far less than 90 percent of those actually crossing the border. Or would it be 90 percent of up-to-date Vader-generated numbers, which would suggest that U.S. officials are much closer to capturing nearly all the illegal crossers?
These questions must be answered. Also, why limit the enforcement threshold to just three "high risk" regions? Do slightly less-trafficked border crossings not count or matter?
(2) I'm emphatically not in love with this idea of establishing a "border commission" if DHS fails to meet its benchmarks after five years. Since when has a Washington-appointed blue ribbon panel solved any complex problem satisfactorily? Two recent examples should serve as cautionary tales: The Simpson-Bowles debt commission was ignored by the president who convened it, and the "super committee" fell on its face, leading to the Obama sequester. I recognize that this concept is designed as a fail safe, but I expect failure, followed by a punt over to this panel. Question: Who are considered "leaders of the border states"? Are we talking about Rick Perry, Jan Brewer, Jerry Brown, and Susana Martinez -- the four (current) border state governors -- or some other group cobbled together to form a "consensus"?
(3) Rubio emphasizes that the bill offers no special or expedited path to citizenship for most illegals (exceptions exist, such as the DREAM kids). That's true. Most applicants would have to wait at least a decade before being eligible to even apply for a green card, followed by an opportunity to seek citizenship several years after that. But the bill does include an almost-immediate path to legalization, or amnesty for non-criminals and fine payers. I'm not necessarily opposed to that on principle, but let's be very clear about what we're debating. Another concern: How on earth will the federal government determine how much each illegal immigrant owes in back taxes? And how can we verify whether applicants arrived in America prior to late 2011, which would be the supposed cut-off?
(4) Rubio closes with two compelling points, tailored specifically at conservatives: First, "provisionally" legal illegal/undocumented immigrants (he uses both phrases) would not be eligible for a cent of federal monetary assistance -- be it welfare, food stamps, Medicaid or Obamacare. But can we guarantee adherence to that standard? And finally, Rubio casts the status quo as an unstable, ongoing de facto amnesty for millions of people. Like it or not, he's right on that score.
UPDATE - Here's full audio of Rubio's tough but fair interview with Rush earlier today (via the Right Scoop).
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography