Amnesty: Always Disastrous for America
When Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, voted to oppose the trading of amnesty for partial wall-funding, they proved themselves to be the two most consistent GOP members in the Senate when it comes to maintaining their own party’s conservative principles. There can simply be no conservative case for forgiving mass law-breaking, whether it be illegal aliens’ entry through our sovereign borders without inspection or their theft of millions of Americans’ Social Security numbers in order to obtain work and welfare illegally.
It is high time the other GOP members in the upper chamber (and pro-amnesty Republicans elsewhere) brush up on fundamental conservative principles. After that, they can then study up on the disastrous effects previous amnesties have wrought on American society. Unfortunately, the history here is vast.
In his book about the core tenets of conservative thought, Catholic University professor Jerry Muller writes that a central difference between right and left is their respective emphasis on institutions and individualism. From the conservative perspective, he says, liberals’ “humanitarian motivation[s]” too often leads them “to policies that promote behavior which is destructive of the institutions upon which human flourishing depends.” As conservatives argue, Muller says, when liberals exhibit a “[m]oral earnestness devoid of the knowledge of the institutions that make beneficent social life possible” it is a “recipe for disaster.”
Although Muller doesn’t mention our past experiences with illegal-alien amnesties, it’s a “disaster” that would illustrate his point well. A particularly “special object of conservative solicitude,” writes Muller, is the rule of law. For it to be upheld, society must be built on laws which are certain, publicly promulgated and applied equally, or, as 19th century jurist A.V. Dicey stated, applied in way where “no man is above the law [and] every man, whatever be his rank or condition, is subject to [it] and amenable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals.” By contrast, in societies where laws are treated as fluid, non-transparent, or bending to political whims, institutional and social breakdown will follow.
Hence Ronald Reagan’s deep regret for having signed the 1986 amnesty bill, which erased the immigration violations of nearly 3 million illegal aliens. The program became “one of the most extensive immigration frauds ever perpetrated,” making a mockery of the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service. And, as night follows day, it encouraged new flows of illegal aliens who anticipated (correctly) similar treatment, making mockery of our national sovereignty.
In spite of this, several congressional amnesties would follow, each one acting like a new pull-factor drawing in more illegal aliens to the point where today, at least according to one recent estimate, the illegal-alien population could be around 10 times that which was amnestied in 1986.
As we also saw from the 1986 amnesty, the costs of a mass legalization would be vast, certainly many times more than the $5.7 billion President Trump wants for a border wall. In 1996, eight years following its implementation in 1988, it was calculated that costs such as welfare use had eclipsed new taxes raised by $80 billion ($123 billion in today’s dollars). The figure is particularly striking considering Congress expressly limited covered aliens to only a handful of welfare programs for the first five years. The fiscal drain on illegal alien-heavy California was particularly dramatic, leading to Proposition 187, in which voters, including a majority of black residents, restricted benefits programs from illegal aliens. The results were later overturned by a federal judge.
Social costs of past amnesties are just as high. A major indirect cost was U.S. worker displacement resulting from the immediate creation of a giant new, legal workforce. Because those amnestied predominately occupied unskilled jobs, the Americans in these labor pools (the most vulnerable among our citizens) were hit hardest – and hit even further when new illegal aliens quickly arrived. Writing about the effects on black communities in particular, labor economist Vernon Briggs noted that illegal alien-induced job displacement is a likely reason why black marriage rates are relatively low.
The effects on family structure – that “most important institute of socialization” for conservatives, says Muller – weren’t just limited to this side of the border. Decades of tolerated immigration abuse had gutted whole communities in Mexico by the early 1990s. According to a study published at the time, the mass exodus of people from that country, especially men, made “families lose control … unity … [and] the sense of being families.” Many towns are in a “downward spiral,” remarked one priest interviewed, “with woman struggling to run households alone while trying to earn money to supplement what their husbands send sporadically or don’t send at all.”
Other cascading effects on social institutions are noteworthy. Due to 85 percent of its educated people, including teachers, having left for the U.S. (mostly) over the last few decades, Haiti’s once celebrated school system (like almost everything else there) has utterly collapsed. Not only is a country greatly damaged when its educated and entrepreneurial classes leave, when the option to emigrate is so easy, those who can work toward positive domestic changes have little incentive to do so. As one immigration commentator once posited, “[w]hat … would have happened to the Polish reform movement had Lech Walesa decided to emigrate to the U.S.?” A similar argument could apply to Cuba. Would the Castro regime have been overthrown if Cubans had not been provided the ability to leave for U.S. shores for more than three decades?
Conservative politicians should pursue conservative policies. That means fighting to preserve the institutions that made this country such an attractive place to begin with. If we can’t preserve our national sovereignty by expanding our border wall and the rule of law at the same time, then President Trump must treat the problem for what it is: a national emergency.
Dale L. Wilcox is the executive director and general counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.