Rich Lowry hopes that Ted Cruz will take a more prominent (and Ramesh Ponnuru hopes Cruz takes a more wide-ranging ) stand against the Gang of Eight plan to give amnesty to people who have already been deported, and implement a guest worker program for low-skill immigrants. Now I think there are moral problems with guest worker programs. I think that immigrants should be brought in as prospective citizens. Guest worker programs strike me as especially bizarre for a country that has constitutionalized birthright citizenship. On balance, I happen to like birthright citizenship and like the idea that the Constitution forecloses the possibility of a native-born permanent noncitizen caste, but it does have implications for immigration policy. We should be welcoming people on the basis that they are likely to stay - even if some of them won’t.
Cruz strikes me as more articulate than Jeff Sessions (who has been the Senate Republican to most prominently oppose the Gang of Eight deal), and Cruz has a flair for publicity. Cruz seems not to mind the scorn of liberal journalists and John McCain (and that is a very good thing.) The Gang of Eight deal has a lot going for it politically. It has the president and the Democratic congressional leadership. Marco Rubio’s credibility as a Tea Party conservative is helping to dampen the intensity of opposition to the bill among the conservative grassroots. The crucial constituency for the Gang of Eight deal is probably a small number of House Republican members who would like to vote the way of the employer interests, but fear the possibility of losing their seats to conservative insurgents next year. If they think Rubio can work as a totem to protect them from the wrath of the electorate in next year’s Republican primaries, then those congressmen are more likely to vote for the Gang of Eight deal. It doesn’t actually matter if the Rubio seal of approval actually does save them. It only matters that they feel it would save them. If Cruz can rally (and energize) conservative opinion against the Gang of Eight deal (and even make some converts among nonconservatives), the fear of the electorate might convince enough Republican House members to vote against the bill.
But in the medium-term, Republicans need more than opposition to bad immigration reform. They need good immigration reform. I think some kind of amnesty along with a path to citizenship is a good idea, but border and internal enforcement has to come first. We also need to reorient immigration more toward higher-skill labor along the Canadian model. Maybe most important, immigration reform has to be part (and not the biggest part) of a broader narrative about declining wages and family stability among low-wage workers and part of a broader reform package to boost work effort and family formation among lower-skill American citizens and current noncitizen residents. So more Robert Stein to go along with a better immigration plan.