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Immigration & Assimilation

Conservatives and Citizenship

Jeb Bush's recent backtracking on the question of whether we should grant legal residency but withhold citizenship to the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country today is far less Draconian than some advocates for legalization are claiming. It is an idea that has been floated by others who support legalization, including scholar Peter Skerry of Boston College.

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Strange Bedfellows for Conservatives

As conservatives debate what to do about immigration reform in the wake of the GOP's disastrous showing among Hispanic voters in the 2012 presidential election, they might consider that the groups they've allied themselves with to date are strange bedfellows.

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Rubio's Lifeline

Marco Rubio has thrown the GOP a lifeline; let's see whether his fellow party members are willing to grab it. The freshman U.S. senator from Florida has been a hard-line foe to illegal immigrants, both in his home state and since his election to Congress, but now he is considering drafting a new "DREAM Act," which would offer legal status to illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

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Sound and Fury of Immigration Debate

"Enforcement first" has become the mantra of conservatives opposed to comprehensive immigration. However, what opponents refuse to recognize is that illegal immigration is under better control today than at any point in the last half century. Last year, net immigration from Mexico was zero -- as many immigrants (legal and illegal) left the United States as came here. The flow of illegal immigrants has plummeted in the last few years -- down to the lowest level since the 1970s. What's more, the Obama administration has deported more illegal immigrants than any previous administration since the Great Depression - including 450,000 last year.

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Americans by Any Name

A new report from the Pew Hispanic Center says a lot about the assimilation of the nation's largest minority group -- both good and bad. Hispanics -- those 50 million people who trace their ancestry to a Spanish-speaking country -- have become both more numerous and more diverse in the past 40 years. In 1970, Hispanics were primarily U.S.-born Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans -- who are U.S. citizens, whether born in Puerto Rico or on the mainland. But the adult population of Hispanics today is almost equally divided between those who were born in the U.S., 48 percent, and those who are foreign-born, 52 percent.

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Fewer Babies Born is Bad News for America

The old adage "be careful what you wish for" is an apt reminder in light of this week's news that the U.S. birthrate has dropped to its lowest level on record. For years, population hysterics have tried to convince Americans to aim not just for zero population growth in the U.S. but its complete reversal.

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New Deportation Rules a Cynical Move

The Obama administration this week announced new rules governing the deportation of illegal aliens. The administration's new policy, which has been in the development stage since the summer, aims to speed the deportation of convicted criminals and halt those of many illegal immigrants without criminal records.

The timing is purely political; attempting to again make illegal immigration a major factor in the upcoming presidential campaign will ultimately help Democrats, not Republicans.

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A Moral Question for the GOP

Many conservatives reject President Obama's recent policy to defer action against illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. But as a conservative who supports the president's decision, I think it's important to seriously engage the arguments both for and against the policy.

First, let me explain what the Obama program does and does not do. It explicitly does not grant legal status to any group, even those who came illegally as infants or children. Those who are eligible for deferred action are given no path to permanent residency or to citizenship. They are not eligible for government assistance programs that bar other illegal immigrants.

What the federal program does do is to make a decision not to divert limited immigration enforcement resources by targeting for removal illegal immigrants who demonstrate they came here as children and have led exemplary lives ever since. Applicants must be 30 years old or under; have come here before the age of 16 and resided continuously for the previous five years; have completed high school or be in the process of earning a degree or served in the military; have no felony or serious misdemeanor convictions; and have paid taxes, if owed. Those who demonstrate their eligibility will be given temporary employment authorization. Recipients must renew their applications every two years.

So why do conservatives generally oppose the policy? First, they say, every nation has a sovereign right to control its borders and to decide who may become a citizen. Second, conservatives believe that the rule of law is one of the fundamental bases of democracy, and if people are allowed to flout the law without consequences, we encourage contempt for the rule of law. Third, conservatives object to the president having bypassed Congress by enacting a policy that they assert was twice rejected when it was proposed as legislation.

The first principle seems indisputable to me; of course, the U.S. should control its borders and has a right to decide whom to admit and to whom it will grant citizenship. Citizenship has always been restricted, although under increasingly inclusive eligibility -- and remains so today.

But for most of our history as a nation, we have not barred entry to the U.S. or restricted residency to anyone except those who posed a health, security or criminal risk. The first meaningful restrictions were aimed at the Chinese and later other Asians and Southern and Eastern Europeans. These laws were intended to keep out certain people on the basis of race, ethnicity, and religion -- a repugnant policy that would be inconceivable today.

The second principle -- the rule of law -- is sound as well. But sometimes in a democracy, the elected representatives enact bad laws, and the question is what to do about it. We could -- and in my view, we should -- enact changes to our current immigration laws that would make it easier for people to come here legally and, therefore, reduce illegal immigration by adults and children. Keeping laws on the books that we have no intention of enforcing also encourages disrespect for the rule of law. Yet no responsible conservative to date has argued that the solution is to round up and deport the 11 million people who reside here illegally. One might even argue that since we ignore violations of the law routinely, the principle of desuetude applies -- which says that laws unenforced for long periods are rendered invalid.

Finally, conservatives are simply wrong when they claim the president lacks authority to defer action against one class of illegal immigrants -- young people who came as children -- because it violates the intent of Congress. The Dream Act, which was at one time a bi-partisan effort, would have granted these young people legal status, and in most versions, a path to citizenship, which the president's deferred action does not. Moreover, the decision to initiate deportation proceedings has always been exercised by the executive branch, just as the decision of whom to prosecute falls to prosecutors, not those who write the laws.

But beyond these questions about conservatives' objections, a final one seems to me the most compelling. Conservatives often invoke the principle that no one should be held accountable for wrongdoing that occurred in the past and in which the person in question played no role. We oppose reparations for slavery on this basis, as we do most forms of affirmative action. So, too, should we oppose a punitive policy that forces nearly two million young people to choose between continuing living in the shadows, unable to work, or leaving the country they've come to know and love.

Arizona Bids Adios to Illegal Immigrant Basher

For the last several years, State Senator Russell Pearce has been the face of the anti-illegal immigrant movement in Arizona. But his district voted this week to recall him, ending a 10-year state legislative career that has been marked by ugly episodes.

It's about time.

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