Of course, responding at sound bite speed to piecemeal questions for a complex problem is challenging. Perhaps that's why the candidates' responses ranged from incomplete to incomprehensible. In both the manner of questioning and responding, the immigration issue was not fully presented, and perhaps that’s why the nation is struggling to find meaningful solutions.
As an organization that has been following and leading the immigration debate for thirty years, and has a firm grasp of public opinion of this issue, we’d like to offer some free advice for those asking and answering immigration questions next time around.
For the moderator, posit the full question of how a candidate would overhaul America’s immigration system (it needs a full re-do and fast) rather than attempting to flesh out policy differences in random bits and pieces. Elicit the big picture answer for the big problem. Then make the candidates address immigration policy like they’ve actually given it some serious thought: no aphorism, bromides and shop-worn truisms.
For candidates, it is not necessary to always bend over backwards to say you’re a fan of legal immigration. Responding to a question about illegal alien benefits, Senator Santorum, proclaimed, "Well, I'm the son of a legal immigrant in this country and believe in legal immigration. That is a great wellspring of strength for our country." He then went on to remind his audience that that “his grandfather came to this country.” You are not required to proclaim your affection for legal immigration in order to have the authority to condemn the impact of illegal immigration. Moreover, this approach limits your ability to speak to the problems inherent in our legal admissions process, and there are many reforms necessary.
Don’t use the terminology of those who support amnesty because you’ll confuse your audience. And don’t support it, unless you mean it. One of Mr. Cain’s solutions to solving illegal immigration was to "promote the path to citizenship, like this lady did, by getting -- cleaning up the bureaucracy." Huh? For most of us Mr. Cain, this means amnesty. Is that what you meant?
Don’t be vague. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said “there are humane, practical steps to solve this problem, if we can get the politicians and the news media to just deal with it honestly.” You are the politician and we’re asking for your solution. Don’t punt the problem to others. Also, don’t be cute. "If you don't want to use the National Guard, take -- take half of the current Department of Homeland Security bureaucracy in Washington, transplant it to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. You'll have more than enough people to control the border." The infamous “alligators in the moat” jab approach didn’t work for President Obama in El Paso and won’t work for you either Mr. Speaker on the campaign trail. The border is no longer funny. It’s deadly.
Here’s what you should say if you're interested in leading on this issue. We’ve timed it and you can say and suggest most of what really needs to be done with America’s immigration system in under sixty seconds:
Secure the border, dry up the jobs magnet with mandatory E-Verify for all employers, enforce the laws federally and as Congress intended, empower states to participate in enforcement, and take any form of amnesty off the table, now and in the future. This is called “attrition through enforcement” and it works. Over time, illegal aliens already here will leave and those thinking about coming here won’t because there are no incentives to do so.
As regards legal immigration and foreign guest workers who are creating undue competition for scare jobs, we need to reduce the numbers of both to more sensible and sustainable levels and emphasize skilled-based admissions. This will put millions of Americans back to work.
If you move fast and have extra time, here are the bonus points:
What we need is an immigration policy that articulates exactly how many and who should come in, and how immigration serves the broad interests of the U.S., our labor market, our environment, our schools, health care and public safety. Let’s stop letting cheap labor business lobbies, illegal alien special interests, and political parties dictate the debate for their own benefit. The American worker and American taxpayers are the real stakeholders and their interests come first.
Your clarity and your common sense positions on immigration might just get you nominated, if you mean it. And it might keep you in office if you actually do it.