Republicans are Lying About Immigration | Opinion

Photo by Nitish Meena via Unsplash.

An overwhelming majority of Americans of all political stripes want Congress to fix immigration, and yet, Congress has failed to do so for decades.

Despite fearmongering political platitudes from the right, significant immigration and border proposals introduced in 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2012, 2013, 2021, and 2022 all failed, largely due to Republican opposition.

It seems the only thing Republicans want more than a fixed immigration system is a broken immigration system.

We’ve been here before

Speaker Mike Johnson and the right have declared that U.S. borders must be fixed before the U.S. will meet its NATO security commitments to Ukraine, and before we can deliver more aid to Israel. Their stunt is a cynical bet on America’s short attention span.

Ten years ago, a “Gang of Eight” U.S. Senators, four Republicans and four Democrats, crafted an ambitious and comprehensive proposal to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. It was the first comprehensive immigration reform plan presented in nearly 30 years.

The proposal provided tech/science employers with more access to urgently-needed engineers and foreign graduates with advanced degrees, included a merit-based review system to award more green cards based on skills and education, and revamped visa rules to help industries that rely on immigrants to fill back-breaking jobs Americans won’t take.

The highly lauded, bi-partisan plan went nowhere.  

After passing the Senate by an overwhelming margin of 68 to 32, it tanked in the House, where far-right conservatives - including Mike Johnson’s Freedom Caucus - blocked it from even getting a vote.

Too many Republicans talk the talk but won’t walk the walk

The late Sen. John McCain, the last real Republican champion of immigration reform, blamed the Gang of Eight’s House failure on the conservative Republican Freedom Caucus. McCain described the far right’s prescription to round up all the “illegals” and deport them as pure “bullshit.”

Ten years later, nothing has changed, and our borders remain a mess.

Despite having GOP majorities in both House and Senate under Republican presidents, including from 2017-2019 under build-a-wall-Trump, Republicans have bypassed Every. Single. Opportunity to fix immigration, preferring instead the politics of wailing about “open borders” in apocalyptic terms.

Sweeping years and years of Republican opportunities and inaction under the rug, Freedom Caucus member and House Speaker Mike Johnson has declared that immigration reform is now Republicans’ “hill to die on.” Promoting #BidenBorderCrisis on social media, and falsely claiming that Democrats support open borders, far-right politicians approach immigration today like they approached abortion yesterday: as an opposition party whose role is to attack, not solve. They obviously don’t want the dog to catch this car either.

Effective reform requires nimble analysis, not grandstanding

Not all Republicans are so deliberately obtuse. Earlier this year, two Republican governors - Spencer Cox of Utah and Eric Holcomb of Indiana - delivered an admirable essay in The Washington Post correctly citing the country’s economic dependence on immigrant labor. Describing more than 300,000 job vacancies between Utah and Indiana alone, they wrote, “In meaningful ways, every U.S. state shares a border with the rest of the world, and all of them need investment, markets and workers from abroad.” They compellingly argue that rapidly declining U.S. birthrates coupled with accelerating retirements is becoming a labor crisis that can only be fixed with increased immigrant workers.

Farmers in particular need migrants who perform back-breaking labor in sweltering heat handling American produce, as well as dairy. Last November the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association begged Congress to enlarge legal immigration to expand their accessible labor pool. They presented their own immigration proposal, advising Congress that the $753 billion American dairy industry needs immigrants to address “an acute national labor crisis,” which they predicted “would soon worsen.”

Stock up on your cheese curds now, because the cheesemakers’ request to Congress also went nowhere.

Market complexities don’t fit into 2 second sound bites

Despite U.S. labor demand exceeding labor supply to the tune of nine million open jobs, no country can absorb unlimited numbers of people. And despite non-stop accusations to the contrary, no one on the credible left has ever called for open borders.

Most Americans understand that migrant labor is crucial to a growing number of domestic industries. Across party lines, over 62% of Americans think businesses should be allowed to hire as many migrant workers as they need to fill vacant jobs. Most Americans agree the immigration process takes too long, and overwhelmingly, the public supports a pathway to citizenship for people who have been here for years.

Johnson and his bright red colleagues do a great disservice to Americans who understand these complexities, by ascribing Fox viewers’ lowest-common-denominator intellect to everyone, fearmongering rather than fixing. Their platitudes make clear that Americans concerned about immigration are far smarter and more informed than they are.

Sabrina Haake is a 25-year litigator specializing in 1st and 14th Amendment defense. Her columns appear in OutSFL, Chicago Tribune, Salon, State Affairs, and Howey Politics. She and her wife split their time between South Florida and Chicago. Follow her on substack.


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