Legislation by Panic

Posted: Jun 25, 2013 12:01 AM

Defending the "Gang of Eight" immigration reform bill on Fox News Sunday, Senator Lindsay Graham sounded the bleat of panic: "If it fails, and we are blamed for its failure, our party is in trouble with Hispanics, not because we are conservative but because of the rhetoric and the way we handled this issue. I want to get reattached to the Hispanic community, to sell conservativism, pass comprehensive immigration reform and grow this party. The party has got to be bigger than Utah and South Carolina. The Hispanic community is close to our values, but we have driven them away over this issue."

As someone who approves some provisions of the proposed legislation, it's still unsettling to see such self-delusion on the part of proponents. The laudable impulse to improve the Republican Party's standing among Hispanics should not lead to embracing a bad bill. Nor should Republicans imagine that immigration reform is a magic bullet that will initiate a flood of Hispanic voters into Republican ranks.

I agree with Graham that the tone of the Republican Party on immigration probably hurt it with Hispanics and other ethnic groups. Romney lost the Asian vote by 73 to 26. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's just a guess that talk of "self deportation" is what drove Hispanics and other groups away. Polls suggest that Hispanics are a reliably liberal voting group on all issues and just a bit more liberal on offering illegals a path to legal status (77 percent favor) than the general population (65 percent favor). The Pew Survey found that 30 percent of Hispanics call themselves liberal, versus 21 percent of the general population.

It's also possible that Romney did poorly with minorities at least in part because he didn't court them very energetically. Obama, for example, spent $12.4 million for 15,000 Spanish language radio ads, while Romney spent $9.7 million for 8500 ads. (Ironically, Obama drove a harder bargain on ads than the famously successful businessman Romney.) Paul Ryan's suggestion that the ticket campaign in poor and minority neighborhoods was reportedly rebuffed.

Still, while the Hispanic community is more liberal than the general population, it remains persuadable. (If it isn't, Republicans aren't going to win any more elections anyway, as the Hispanic share of the population continues to grow.) Sixty-three percent of Hispanics call themselves conservative or moderate. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has found an intriguing difference between voting and non-voting Hispanics. The non-voters lean more to the right.

So Republicans do need to heed the results of the past few elections and improve their approach to Hispanics. But the bill now emerging from the Senate is a dead end.

The bill does include some sensible reforms, such as increasing the slots for high-skilled immigrants, eliminating the "diversity visa lottery" for green cards and offering visas to entrepreneurs who wish to start businesses in the U.S. The bill would tighten up some aspects of chain migration (siblings of citizens would no longer be eligible for entry visas), but would loosen others (more spouses and children of legal permanent residents would be eligible than under current law).

It should be axiomatic that if a bill is 1,190 pages long, it is full of mischief, and this one is. Just as Obamacare hands lots of discretion about everything from medical school admissions to antibiotic ointments to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the immigration law hands many crucial decisions to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor. Labor would be empowered to question the personnel decisions of any firm that hired even one high skilled immigrant. The law further requires that immigrants be paid significantly more than native-born hires -- supposedly to prevent companies from replacing Americans with foreigners. But as Shikha Dalmia notes in Reason magazine, the more likely result will be that firms choose to locate abroad.

Byron York reports that the bill sets pay scales for "Animal Breeders; Graders and Sorters; Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop, Nursery, and Greenhouse; and Farmworkers, Farm, Ranch and Aquacultural Animals." There are probably more wage controls in this bill than we've seen since the Nixon administration.

Finally, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Gang of Eight bill will reduce illegal immigration during the coming decade by only 25 percent.

Immigration needs reform, but contra Graham, there is no rush. This bill is a tangle of controls, mandates, bureaucratic empowerment and internal contradictions. It's no wonder Democrats are fans -- reason enough for Republicans to take a hard second look.