The Goodlatte immigration bill should be the bare minimum for conservatives

IF this is the bill that would actually pass — and be implemented.

Green card and visa
belterz | Getty Images

In a sane world, conservatives wouldn’t have to discuss any form or size of amnesty as a bargaining chip to implement enforcement and positive legal immigration reforms for Americans. We should get that for free. All elected officials should be on board with true immigration reform, whether or not they support some form of amnesty for some illegal aliens. As such, we should not even be discussing amnesty at this point.

But in the reality we have, the bill introduced yesterday (H.R. 4760) by Reps. Goodlatte, McCaul, Labrador, and McSally could provide conservatives with the best opportunity to refocus the national discussion on immigration on the priorities of Americans first rather than being all about amnesty. But there are some caveats.

Comprehensive … in a good way

The bill this influential group introduced has many but not all of the critical items on the conservative wish list to put Americans first in the immigration debate.

  • The bill almost immediately eliminates family-based chain migration for all categories of immigration beginning at the end of the fiscal year, including those already on the visa waiting list. By my count, only 1 percent of the 4 million on the visa list will be grandfathered in. This is the most immediate and categorical immigration reform in over a half-century.
  • It incorporates most of the Davis-Oliver interior enforcement act, the asylum reform bill, the UAC reform bill (Central American smuggling), and cuts off law enforcement grants to sanctuary cities.
  • It requires that within two years all businesses take two minutes out of their time to use mandatory E-verify, one of the only effective federal programs. (It should be noted, though, that this bill incorporates the version of E-verify that also has a new agriculture guest worker program that some of us are not happy about.)
  • It abolishes the diversity visa lottery. However, it does recapture those roughly 55,000 visas and reallocate them for H-1B-type programs.
  • It ends catch-and-release by explicitly requiring ICE to detain illegal aliens who are a risk.
  • It clarifies and expands the categories for deporting criminal legal aliens as a response to recent court rulings invalidating deportations of those convicted of drunk driving, aggravated felonies, and “crimes involving moral turpitude.”
  • Institutes mandatory prison sentences for those who re-enter the country illegally as a deterrent to those who keep coming and getting deported with no fear of punishment, such as Kate Steinle’s murderer.
  • On the border security portion, it authorizes the hiring of 5,000 new border agents and 5,000 new ICE agents. It authorizes the full border wall and requires completion of exit-entry visa tracking.

In exchange for these pro-American measures, the bill offers amnesty to roughly 700,000 recipients of Obama’s unconstitutional amnesty (not 2-3 million). However, the form of amnesty in the bill is only a renewable 3-year non-immigrant visa with no path to a green card. Also, the vetting standards are much stricter than the policies set forth by the Obama administration. For example, it would bar illegals with DUI misdemeanors or those convicted of identity theft and it allows DHS to open up their juvenile records as well. They are also barred from collecting refundable tax credits, which they are currently receiving. If applied as written, a large portion of the 700,000 would likely be denied the visas.

To be clear, if this is the bill that would actually pass and be implemented, even someone like me would swallow this amount of amnesty for much greater systemic reforms. However, at this point, we know there is no way in hell Democrats would ever allow even one or two of these provisions to go through.

Which brings us to the critical question about this bill: What is the bill’s driving motivation?

If Goodlatte and Co. intend for every one of these provisions to be a red line and serve as the floor, not the ceiling, for “America first” demands, and if they intend for these amnesty provisions to be the ceiling and not the floor for amnesty, I can stand behind this bill. If they promote it aggressively, it can finally change the national discussion and reorient the debate towards making immigration work for Americans first. It can rebrand immigration reform as true reform, not amnesty.

However, if they plan to whittle down the demands in the face of inevitable opposition from Democrats and even some Republicans, this bill will backfire because it will only serve as a tool to get Republicans on board with amnesty, something they have scrupulously avoided for a generation. Amnesty will become the universal imperative, and we will be left with the same result as the other seven amnesties in recent years: amnesty now and phony promises of enforcement later.

Some proponents of American sovereignty might be wondering why we should sign on to anything with amnesty at this point and how this bill won’t wind up like every other proposal in the past. For starters, this is the first serious bill being proposed in an actual debate to truly reform legal immigration. The border enforcement stuff can easily be co-opted or never implemented. After all, we already had promises of employment verification, visa exit-entry, and general authorization for a wall. That part of the bill definitely needs to be bolstered. But the portion ending chain migration alone is a deal breaker for the Left. There is no way they can co-opt that provision or prevent it from happening … if these members of Congress stand behind this as a red line.

Ideally, we should never discuss amnesty until the enforcement provisions have been implemented for three years. But if offered this deal for real, we’d be foolish not to take it. The question is whether this is actually for real, and that is what conservatives need to carefully watch.

Furthermore, I’d add three provisions to better address the political realities of the immigration problems and the failed promises of the past.

1) Judicial reform is a must: This bill must incorporate judicial reform by either completely removing immigration jurisdiction from Article III courts or severely limiting it, as originally envisioned in the 1996 immigration bill. As we are witnessing every day, judges are granting blanket judicial amnesty, upholding sanctuary cities, and blocking every form of state and federal immigration enforcement. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if they strike down changes to chain migration as well, as racist and a violation of equal protection. Immigration reform is meaningless without judicial reform. This bill does contain a few provisions narrowing court involvement, but it needs to expand them and make the language more emphatic. Also, it should be clear that DACA recipients, in particular, should have no ability to use the courts to complain about denial or revocation of status. This bill would still provide them with a narrow but clear path of judicial review.

2) Anchor babies and anchor tourism: I’m not going to demand every policy on my wish list, but this one is a must. If we are going to grant amnesty under the guise of sympathy for those “already brought here as children,” we must prospectively end the magnet whereby people can come here, unilaterally assert jurisdiction, get citizenship for their kids, be counted in the Census, secure welfare, and then never go home. This is really the prime motivator and is one of the most egregious injustices to the American people. It will also undermine any temporary guest worker program, because once they have kids here, they will never go home.

Moreover, it is the gateway to welfare eligibility. Many politicians insist that illegal aliens, barring any fraud, are not receiving welfare. However, anyone with an American-born child does receive welfare on the child’s behalf. This is why a staggering 87 percent of illegal alien households with children are recipients of at least one welfare program.

As I note in my book, Congress must assert its power over citizenship and make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment only gives birthright citizenship to those consensually subject to our jurisdiction, which means one parent must be a green card holder. At the very least, if Congress declines to fix birthright citizenship across the board, all amnestied aliens under this bill should be prohibited from collecting welfare on behalf of their U.S.-born children as a condition for keeping their work visas.

3) Border wall trigger: “More assets, infrastructure, agents, and technology.” We’ve heard all that before, and it never happens. While the bill does authorize the full wall, the reality is that the wall is already authorized under current law. It needs funding, but this bill cannot provide it because it’s not an appropriations bill. What is missing from this bill is a hard trigger. I would propose barring any renewals of DACA in two years from now unless the DHS secretary certifies that 850 miles of double-layered fence has been completed. The wall should be paid for by cutting off remittances from illegal aliens.

President Trump has a penchant for supporting whatever is put on his plate. This bill provides him with a defensible landing place to fulfill his campaign promises. But the question remains: Will the Goodlatte bill make the good provisions the main course and the amnesty the dessert, or will the amnesty be the appetizer, main course, and dessert, as history has shown?


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Author: Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.