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Immigration Policy: Reality Bites

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
The problem with reality is that it can get so, well, real. As when it storms through the door, kicks over a chair or two and demands recognition, when the problem of immigration has done, as signified by eight senators, both Republicans and Democrats, this week.

The process of normalizing, so to speak, the status of 11 million illegal immigrants now in the United States is not an unusually attractive one, particularly to those who set store by observance of laws and norms. What the alternative may be, one isn't sure. To eject 11 million people from the country? I do not think anybody has ever believed that can happen. Something messy and disagreeable to many would get done instead. That was always the muted, mumbled understanding. Reality has crossed the United States border demanding admission.

There are various reasons four Republican senators, including Marco Rubio and John McCain, have reached general agreement with Democratic colleagues acting from other motives. The agreement, if enacted by the full Congress and signed into law by a president who longs for immigration reform suited to his own taste, would regularize in the short run the status of the aforesaid 11 million. The agreement would specify how they might become citizens; at the same time, it would set up procedures for tightening border control.

Adequate procedures? Who knows? The aforesaid Republican senators, this being their end of the deal, would have to work assiduously to make the political sprockets engage the legislative chain links. A deal to which the present president of the United States is a party cannot automatically - alas! -- be called a deal without bear traps and demagogic accusations. The fallback realization is 11 million immigrants who can't, realistically, be expelled.

No, it's more than that. It's votes. "We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours," McCain says. Maybe should be but wasn't in 2012. Sen. Rubio of Florida is a voluble exponent of measures to capture a major share of the Hispanic vote before it goes away forever.

Can it be done? A writer for the Daily Beast sneers, "You think the party that wanted to repeal health care expansion is going to get the bulk of [Hispanic] votes?" Not with a GOP base whose instinct is to "howl to the moon."

A different kind of "howling" than the kind the writer obviously has in mind might turn the trick for the Republicans. What if they were to present the nation as a whole -- all regions, all races -- with a manifesto for economic growth through responsible economic stewardship and rewards for the old-fashioned virtues of hard work, diligence, thrift, the sorts of things no one ever hears Democrats talking about? Virtue: there's another attribute rarely praised by political figures not wishing to turn off the non-virtuous.

Look, why do immigrants, legal or illegal, come here for in the first place? The chance to be as batty and dependent and worthless as they could be back home without having to rise from bed? Do the great majority not want, fundamentally, the things they see Americans enjoying, and not just government subsidies, but rather, privately created opportunities for growth and prosperity? That is a large generalization but not a reckless one, I think.

If the GOP need not so much "reach out" to newly empowered illegals as remind them of blessings, and jobs, that accrue in a climate of comparative freedom, where tax men and bureaucrats keep low profiles -- how can that hurt the quest for immigrant votes? Or for the votes of natives? Such things are worth affirming on their own terms. A 2012 presidential campaign that linked jobs and freedom and growth and prosperity might have issued in a different result than the one we got, with Hispanics and whites wondering just how Mitt Romney meant to reinvigorate his country. Always remember: Never let a crisis, or a dose of reality, go to waste.

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