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Texas (and other) Republicans, squeezed between tariffs and immigration

As University of Texas/Texas Tribune pollsters James Henson and Joshua Blank wrote this week, those GOP politicians are parked between their strong support for stricter immigration enforcement and their strong support for business.

That duality is evident in most Republican officials’ comments about the situation. They like the border part and they don’t like the tariffs.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who is running for reelection in 2020, has said through aides that he “supports the President’s commitment to securing our border, but he opposes this across-the-board tariff which will disproportionately hurt Texas.” The Dallas Morning News quoted the senator putting it more colorfully: “Tariffs are a useful tool, but they’re not great policy. That gun kicks just as hard as it shoots.”

Sen. John Cornyn, one of the names floated as the next director of the FBI

And it is not just Texas Republicans who are split on immigration.  There is a growing rift between what I call “Chamber of Commerce” Republicans and “Nativist” Republicans on immigration.  The swing votes in the Republican Caucus are what I call “Law and Order” Republicans.

So far, the Nativists have done an amazing job of keeping the Law and Order folks on their team.  But a clever politician (perhaps a Democratic Presidential candidate) with a soapbox could make that more difficult for them and force Republican politicians make some very difficult choices.

A proposal that supports border security, provides more funding for employment verification but includes a path for undocumented immigrants who are working and paying taxes to earn legal status has huge broad based support.  It is an enormous winner among Democrat and Swing voters.  But, perhaps surprising, the proposal is strongest among Republican voters.  Andrew Sullivan recently laid out the case for a proposal along these lines.

To get the Law and Order caucus on board, a proposal would have to include provisions that would make it more difficult to term it an “amnesty”.  Such provisions could include a so-called touchback provision that would force currently undocumented immigrants to “touch base” in their home country where they could apply for the work based visa.  Alternatively, those who are undocumented who are unwilling or unable to “touch base” would have to pay an extra fine, the proceeds of which would support additional border security efforts.

While the Nativists would likely call this an amnesty, our discussions with Republicans suggest that many would be willing to accept this as a viable solution for the majority of the 11 million undocumented residents currently working in the US.

It was not surprising that the Trump administration’s immigration plan did not address the fate of the undocumented.  As long as the administration and other Republicans fear the power of the Nativists, there is no winning way to even discuss those 11 million people.

Chamber of Commerce Republicans want to play nice and talk tough on employment enforcement, but certainly do not want the undocumented to actually be deported.  When it comes to deporting the working undocumented, they are the ultimate NIMBY’s.

US Deportations of Immigrants slightly down in 2017

Here is the proof.  In 2017 (with a Republican House, Senate and President) deportations of noncriminal immigrants were down nearly 30% from the peak of such deportations under President Obama.

And enforcement actions against employers?  Also down…just 11 such actions in the 12 months ending in March!

…just 11 employers faced criminal charges for hiring undocumented workers, according to analysis of government data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, at Syracuse University.

“Not only are few employers prosecuted, fewer who are convicted receive sentences that amount to more than token punishment,” TRAC said in a statement.

The fact is, under the Trump administration, there has been a de facto amnesty for employers hiring undocumented workers.

And this is true because the Chamber of Commerce Republicans (also could label them Ronald Reagan Republicans) want it that way.  Undocumented workers are critical for many firms and industries.

The National Milk Producers Federation issued research on the impact on the dairy industry alone:

It concluded that a complete loss of immigrant labor could cause the loss of one-in-six dairy farms and cut U.S. economic output by $32.1 billion, resulting in 208,000 fewer jobs nationwide. Some 77,000 of the lost jobs would be on dairy farms.

The survey results do not distinguish between documented and undocumented foreign-born workers, but 71 percent of survey respondents said they had either low or medium level of confidence in the employment documents of their immigrant workers. As a result, the report said, a majority of dairy farmers are very concerned about actions such as immigration raids or employee audits. Despite this, 80 percent of dairy farms surveyed continue to hire immigrants.

If there were raids on dairy farms, there would be hell to pay in the Republican ranks.

And the same is true in many other industries.

A proposal that allowed employers (such as dairy farmers) the chance to legally hire the undocumented, but asked them to pay $2500 per year to allow a currently undocumented immigrant to have a work visa (money which could be used for job training and placement for American citizens) is one that many of them would gladly accept.  No one wants to be an outlaw, but our currently policies often lead to otherwise law abiding citizens knowingly violating the law.  The analogy to Prohibition is clear.

A proposal along these lines would shake up the debate on immigration.

Topic for a future post–is President Trump truly a Nativist, or could the Chamber of Commerce wing find an ally in him?  To be explored later…

Steve Kuhn

IDEAL Immigration