Yuval Levin has some eminently sensible suggestions for how to improve the Gang Of Eight’s immigration bill. Levin’s suggestions include mandating the near-term adoption of E-Verify for all employees, eliminating the guest worker program and shifting future immigration toward high-skill immigrants for the sake of current low-wage American residents (to include many such residents who would be getting amnesty.) That is an immigration program that I can enthusiastically get behind.
Levin frames his proposals as a suggestion for fixing the Gang of Six Deal. William Kristol wonders if it is at all likely that the current Congress would adopt Yuval Levin-style immigration reform. I doubt it. The Senate bill is basically amnesty, plus some gestures toward border enforcement that are and insult to the intelligence, plus increased legal low-skill/low-wage immigration, plus internal enforcement that will at best be delayed and most likely be abandoned altogether when the heat is off. The complex of interest groups and politicians who produced the Gang of Eight deal got what they wanted. They don’t want Yuval Levin-style immigration reform. John McCain doesn’t want it. Charles Schumer doesn’t want it. Barack Obama doesn’t want it. The left-wing activist groups don’t want it. The Chamber of Commerce doesn’t want it. I suspect that most of the above would prefer to stick with the status quo and hope to win immigration reform on their terms later on than support Yuval Levin-style reform now. Sufficient public pressure could push some elected officials to supporting better immigration reform, but public opinion would have to strongly favor better reform and probably make itself felt in elections.
Opponents of the Gang of Eight deal are drawing from deep wells of public opposition to increased low-skill immigration and amnesty that is not combined with effective enforcement. The problem is that the opposition to the Gang of Eight deal often just sound too negative. They often sound like Mitt Romney opposing amnesty until some indefinite time when the border is secure and that illegal immigrants will self-deport. This strategy is self-defeating in the end. It means that the best that opponents of the Gang of Eight deal can hope for is the maintenance of the broken status quo. It means that Chuck Schumer and his allies only have to win once while the best their opponents can hope for it to not lose even more than they already are.
A better option would be to contrast the Gang of Eight-style immigration reform with Yuval Levin’s far superior immigration proposals. I think it is very likely that Levin’s proposals would have substantial public appeal. Levin’s set of policies could form the basis for a humane, pro-growth, pro-working-class immigration reform program. They key is to create the political incentives for Republican office holders and candidates who want to position themselves as conservatives to adopt Yuval Levin-style immigration reform. It means establishing Yuval Levin-style immigration reform as the authentic and realistic alternative to the Gang of Eight deal. One thing e could do is hope that some brave politician or politicians would adopt Levin-style immigration reform and assemble a coalition around it. That would be great, but it would be more likely that politicians would adopt this agenda if there was already a movement in favor of such a set of policies.
My tentative suggestion is to start a petition (along with major newspaper ads) with as many conservative journalists, activists and office holders as can be found who favor Yuval Levin-style immigration reform. If we can shift opinions among conservative activists, then it becomes more likely that even the John McCains of the Republican party will go along and we might even get enough support from Democrats from competitive constituencies to actually pass a good immigration reform bill. Such a path would be slower than I would like, but it seems like the best option we have given the current balance of political forces.