House: Risk-Reward Calculation Dictates Amnesty Inaction
On some of America’s most contentious issues, civil discourse takes a back seat to ugly outcry. Last week, masked protesters carrying torches and threatening organized violence demonstrated on the front lawn of the Enbridge Energy Management Company’s president. Environmentalists made a late night visit to Mark Maki’s home and promised “solidarity means attack,” and pledged that their goal is to shut down pipeline development. Enbridge transports natural gas throughout North America.
Last year, megaphone-carrying dissenters gathered on Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s lawn to demand that he stop testifying against amnesty in Congress and instead support legalizing illegal immigrants. In both Maki and Kobach’s cases, the demonstrators who represent extreme factions violated personal property rights.
Now pro-immigration organizations threaten more of the same. Since John Boehner announced, more or less officially, that the House will not take up reform this year, activists have threatened an even-more confrontational strategy. A spokesman for one advocacy group promised that it would “switch tactics” from “persuasion to punishment” while another warned that the personal attacks would be “relentless and constant,” and would escalate daily for at least the next two months. Kevin Appleby, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration policy director pledged that his group would “redouble” its efforts and “focus like a laser” on key House Catholics.
Journalists have summarized that the immigration lobby’s angry style is a new game plan when, to the contrary, it’s been around for years. In March, April and May, 2006 hundreds of thousands gathered nationwide to protest H.R. 4437, an enforcement-first immigration bill.
During 2013, Illegal immigrants blocked congressional offices, protested en masse in major U.S. cities, and chained themselves to the White House fence. In one of the most egregious examples of harassment, last summer two teenage activists interrupted House Speaker John Boehner during breakfast at his favorite Capitol Hill diner to press him on behalf of their cause. But despite a ten-year history of militant amnesty lobbying, the pro-immigration faction has nothing to show for it.
I’ll offer two reasons why amnesty hasn’t advanced. First, although legislation hasn’t passed, the status quo has remained intact. That is, illegal immigrants can today as they have done in the past come to the U.S., get jobs, put their children in K-12 schools and give birth to citizen children. In at least 10 states, aliens can get drivers licenses or permits; 15 states offer subsidized university tuition to illegal immigrant students. California offers the entire package: licenses, subsidies, and even the opportunity to be admitted to the bar and practice law. These benefits come with little threat of deportation. ICE Acting Director John Sandweg recently admitted that in 2013, his agency deported only 134,000 illegal aliens from the interior out of a population of estimated at 11.5 million.
Second, House representatives recognize that no matter how cautiously they hedge their language, amnesty is unpopular back home where voters express their opinions every two years. Many of the more enlightened and less agenda-driven legislators know that giving legal status to illegal immigrants also allows aliens to compete for scarce jobs in a market where 92 million Americans are out of the labor force.In short, legislators know that non-action doesn’t harm illegal immigrants especially when the citizenship carrot could be five or more years down the line. On the other hand, they also know that passing amnesty would put Americans at a further disadvantage in the labor market and could cost them their jobs.
Consequently in the House, at least for today, the amnesty risk-reward ratio dictates that inaction is the wisest course.