This presidential administration is so determined to build a border fence that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, with the authorization of Congress, is busy waiving more than thirty laws in order to see it built quickly. Republicans, in general, seem to favor a border fence. My question is, why?
Of course I’m well acquainted with the arguments, as I suspect you are, so I won’t address them in detail: maintaining our national culture, remaining a country which abides by the rule of law, ensuring procedural fairness vis-à-vis legal immigrants, and protecting American jobs. These are all principles supported by the Republican Party and conservatives alike. But I must admit, I’m still a little flummoxed.
It’s not that I don’t support those principles—I most certainly do. In fact, no one is more supportive of the maintenance of our American culture than I am, nor are you likely to find someone who takes a harder line on rule of law issues. Likewise, I believe that the immigrants who have come to America legally should reap the benefits of their actions and I have nothing but the greatest optimism about the state of the American job market when it is allowed to innovate and operate unencumbered by excessive regulation.
So where, you ask, is my problem? It’s the hypocrisy of the approach. Isn’t the Republican Party supposed to be party of small federal government? Isn’t the GOP supposed to be the party of personal responsibility and accountability? Aren’t Republicans likely to eschew a government solution to problems that can be fixed by personal behavior?
The answers to these questions are historically yes.
I’d like to reiterate two principles that I think ought to guide the behavior of the federal government. First, government should facilitate its citizens doing the right thing. Second, as Ronald Reagan liked to say, government should protect us from each other but not protect us from ourselves. Having said that, the immigration problem begins with us. We–individual families, small business owners, and corporations—have created a market for illegal immigrants by hiring them. Without the ability to work and earn in our country there would be little motivation to come to America. Taking the path of least resistance, some Americans have selfishly justified their own law breaking and illegal hiring practices and, in turn, created paradigms of labor availability for their businesses and job availability for those willing to immigrate illegally to the United States.
The government’s role in today’s illegal immigration problem is that it hasn’t previously done what it must do now—enforce the laws of our country. Asking the federal government to build a border fence is asking for more government, more regulation, and more expenditure. In short, it is the type of suggestion we would normally expect from Democrats.
Going forward, the federal government can help citizens do the right thing by putting America on notice that the laws of our country will be enforced. Critics claim that this is insensitive to the illegal immigrants who have established lives here in the US. This makes as much sense as saying that if the police discovered a family of thieves, they shouldn’t return the stolen TVs and stereos to the rightful owners because the thieves had become accustomed to having them. And since there have been no crimes since the original theft, we’ll skip prosecuting the perpetrators, too.
A border fence, at best, serves only to help protect us from ourselves by slowing a supply for which we created the demand–a role Republicans and conservatives usually don’t believe the federal government should be taking on. A border fence ignores the ingenuity of properly motivated foreigners and is unlikely to stop illegal immigration for any length of time. Only when the supply of jobs is cut will illegal immigration be curbed. At which point, a previously erected border fence becomes an unnecessary eyesore, a maintenance problem, and a monument to our own lack of self-control and imagination.
This issue has become a metaphor for the laments of those Republicans who understand that the GOP has become as much a proponent of big government solutions as the Democrats. The line between the parties has blurred and Americans are left with fewer and fewer real choices.
Republicans and conservatives, as well as many Democrats, value the aforementioned principles involved in the illegal immigration issue. Despite the validity of the competing principles here, Republicans don’t do themselves any favors by not standing up for the broader and more important principles that guide the party. The concepts of limited government and personal accountability and responsibility are the principles that should guide the policies the party pursues. Some will say, “the people have spoken” and the administration is just following the wishes of the people by building the border fence. When did the US stop being a republic? We’ve elected officials, in this case a Republican administration, to do what they think is best for the country. Instead, like beleaguered parents capitulating to the demands of a petulant child who cries to get what he wants, Republican leaders are creating a new generation of party members who don’t understand the fundamental beliefs of the party and who are growing increasingly dependent on government solutions.
We must do for ourselves what government can’t do for us: we must wean ourselves off the tendency to look to the federal government to solve our problems. The Republicans have hopped on board the good ship Largesse, but we don’t have to sail with them. It’s time, as in most issues these days, for us to claim our party back from those who have forgotten what it is Republicans and conservatives want from their party leadership; and on the issue of illegal immigration another federally funded, big government program is not the solution to a problem American citizens can solve all by ourselves.