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The Beginning of the Beginning of the Immigration Debate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The end of the first week of the debate over immigration reform proved that it is the roller derby of public policy debates for Republicans and Democrats alike.


Louisiana Senator David Vitter was the first to provide a face plant and skid over the rails. The blowback directed at Vitter for mocking Marco Rubio was intense, and the penalty box includes a copy of An American Son for reading. “Naïve” about immigration doesn’t work well with the son of immigrants.

More seriously, Senator Schumer may have declared immigration reform over before it began by revealing the Democrats’ real position on border security: The Border Commission will have no real role except some endless meetings attended by "seconds" leading up to, well, nothing of consequence according to the New York senator. Rarely does a bipartisan "deal" break apart this quickly.

President Obama talked and talked and talked, doing so in Las Vegas in an apparent effort to remind voters where he went after he learned of the slaughter of four Americans in Benghazi.

The huge attention paid slaughter of Chuck Hagel’s credibility, which featured Hagel’s own “slaughter” quotes neither confirmed nor denied that the gun control debate no longer interested America, though the ponderously dull Anderson Cooper special on guns Thursday night did confirm that Jeff Zucker is looking at the broadcast equivalent of the Augean stables. There must have been a point in the show when the producers considered changing the town hall to the subject of immigration.


Immigration Debate Week One wasn’t a total loss however, as numerous key interviews marking out key open positions were given. Four happened on my show:

Senator Marco Rubio.

Senator Jeff Flake.

Senator Rand Paul.

Congressman Raul Labrador.

Two key opinion leaders –David Brooks and Mark Steyn—also weighed in, and the slightly embarrassing debate between Mario Loyola and Mark Krikorian broke out at National Review, with Loyola playing the role of Ted Cruz and Krikporian playing the role of Chuck Hagel.

Key report of the week: David Feith’s AEI offering on UNO Charter Schools in Chicago.

Key resource of the week: The database of serious immigration reports.

The pace of the debate is so fast that this is a two column week for me. Column one on the merger of immigration reform with education reform is here. Charles Krauthammer puts a cap on the week's writing here.

Takeaway from the all of the above: The GOP first needs to provide draft legislative language on Title I of the immigration reform bill, “Border Security,” which will specify the metrics of border security improvement that must be met before Title II provisions on regularization and education reform begin to operate.


Miles of new, double fencing is the most obvious metric, wonderful because it cannot hurt if provided in overabundance, and it is easily measured. In late 2011 there were 650 miles of “hard fencing” along the 2,000 mile southwest border, and that included 299 miles of vehicle barriers. A trigger of 350 more miles of hard, double-fencing –not vehicle barriers—would be the visible expression of an invisible but real commitment to border security, as would a doubling of the number of full-time border patrol agents. The Border Patrol has been slammed for closing stations, and it cites manpower needs. Title I has to address those manpower needs and set specific, measurable levels of personnel in the right jobs.

Title 1 also has to name the commission that will certify these measures have been completed. Sure, it needs the governors and attorneys generals of all four of the southwestern border state and one big northern border state and Florida to provide additional border perspectives and, say, three members each from each of the four partisan leaders of the Congress. That’s a Commission of 24 folks. Title I must obligate them to meet quarterly and issue a “yes” or “no” on the metrics, and to vote by roll call. A citizen suit provision allowing any citizen of the United States to challenge the wrongful certification of any metric will put teeth into it.


Title II on regularization of the 11 million, especially its provisions on education reforms for the children regularized via its operations, will be a touch more difficult to write, but not Title I.

Proponents of reform should get on with providing a draft of Title I. Once it clears the Senate and gets sent to the House, Title II can follow and the real work will have been begun. Until then it is just politics.

Remember,as Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn likes to remind people, the Homestead Act, which settled 10% of the land of the United States, was 1,340 words long. The best laws are clear and short, easily read and easily understood. So it should be with Title I.

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