Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 15, 2008
POLITICS: Is Senator McCain Serious About Border Enforcement?

Mark Krikorian, one of the leading immigration hardliners and the man whose immigration plan Mike Huckabee has adopted, asks the following:

Does Anyone Believe McCain's Change of Heart?

McCain claims to have heard the voice of the people, and now ostensibly supports enforcing the border before implementing an amnesty (though I haven't heard him support any other prerequisites, like a functioning, universal work-verification system, 100% deportation of criminals upon completion of their sentences, withholding federal funds from cities defying federal immigration law, etc).

It's a fair question. Speaking as a McCain-sympathizing Rudy supporter, let me provide what I think is the answer here.

As I have noted before, Senator McCain, like each of the other main contenders, has changed his tune on some issues; in fact, immigration is probably the issue on which these five candidates have done the most shifting of their rhetoric and their positions over time, including a number of outright flip-flops. That said, there is a difference between a flip-flop and a strategic retreat in response to a collision with political reality, and I think the latter is what McCain is doing. He's not claiming he has changed his opinion - he is clearly still a believer in the merits of "comprehensive immigration reform" - he's just promising to change his behavior in response to a setback.

But do we believe him? My best guess, which is consistent with my general view that McCain may be worth buying but with the understanding up front of the tradeoff of remorse we will pay down the road, is as follows:

1. McCain has, in fact, concluded that it's politically impossible to get a comprehensive bill (including all the elements in McCain-Kennedy) through the Congress until some visible progress is shown on enforcement, just as the Clintons concluded after 1994 that a comprehensive health care plan would not pass.

2. Therefore, McCain will pursue stepped-up enforcement first, and will not push for a comprehensive immigration bill in 2009.

3. McCain's idea of what constitutes "stepped-up enforcement" and "visible progress" is very different from that of people like Krikorian, and probably not radically different from some of the things Bush has done. Expect some visible fence-construction and a few more big enforcement cases against employers, and maybe some funding for a verification system. Do not expect a crackdown on 'sanctuary cities' or radically stepped-up numbers of deportations.

4. Nobody wants to try to do a comprehensive immigration bill in an election year, so 2010 is out as well.

5. I would expect that McCain, who turns 75 in the summer of 2011 and is unlikely at that point to have the wind at his back as far as re-election or perhaps even re-nomination is concerned, will then seek to bring back a comprehensive bill that year, especially if the Democrats control Congress. The bill will probably have slightly tougher enforcement provisions than this year's bill, if only to continue things done in 2009-10, but it will not make it any more difficult for current illegal aliens to gain citizenship. And it will yet again come down to whether there are enough Congressional Republicans, plus a handful of far-lefties who don't want any compromise at all, around to defeat the bill.

That's my best guess. Whether you think that's an acceptable result probably depends on whether or not you think McCain is already an unacceptable option.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:21 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)

McCain has always been soft on the issue of illegal immigration, preferring to avoid the topic if possible. The "service industry" is huge in Arizona, and quite frankly, would colapse without the large influx of illegals every year. That means most of his major donors, through the years, would rather stick their head in the sand than ackowledge a problem, because those donors are the ones hiring them at a low wage.
I'm skeptical he'll do anything more than blow with the prevailing wind on this issue.

Posted by: Mark D at January 15, 2008 1:42 PM

Crank-You're doing arguably the best writing anywhere on the election, and I agree with you most of the time.

But let's not elect Hillary or Obama over this silliness. The border isn't sealable. Why spend billions trying to prove it is?

Posted by: John Salmon at January 15, 2008 1:43 PM

And that's why I couldn't support him. There will not be resolve to filibuster if McCain is pushing immigration. The Dems may just not touch it - unless Senators McCain and Kennedy get it going again.

True enforcement and borders means creating massive incentives to enter the country legally only. I trust Rudy about a billion times more on this issue than McCain. At least as Mayor Rudy had less options. McCain could have written any legislation he wanted, he wanted McCain / Kennedy.

Posted by: Brendan at January 15, 2008 2:07 PM

BTW - agree that your writing has been very solid on this race. Don't agree with it all, but you lay out the calculus and logic behind the conclusions, and then argues with a good mix of rhetoric and evidence.

(Unlike Hugh Hewitt, who I fear at this point is doing more damage to himself than McCain. Even though I agree with Hewitt.)

Posted by: Brendan at January 15, 2008 2:10 PM

In defending McCain's obviously evolving policy positions, you state "there is a difference between flip flopping and a strategic retreat in response to a collision with a political reality". And of course you blast Romney's record and any Democrat carrying out cellular respiration for flip flopping at any miniscule showing of ambiguity or nuance in their policy positions. But cant Romney's shifts on abortion rights and gun ownership and the like be explained by strategic retreats in response to the political reality of Republican primary elections? Face it, your distinction sounds like doublespeak and doesn't properly distinguish McCain from Romney or any other politician who must adapt their personal policy preferences to the will, or perceived will, of the voting public. And is that so wrong anyway? Be consistent.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at January 15, 2008 3:13 PM

Our very large and porous border was neatly summed up by Andy Rooney many years ago. To paraphrase:

"As long as we have more people wanting to come in than go out, we don't really have a problem."

Look at it this way, we have just as large a border from the US to Mexico, and that side also has great climate. China and Russia have this really big border also. I wouldn't be shocked if suddenly a lot of Russians develop a taste for Moo Goo Gai Pan in about 30 years. There goes the neighborhood.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at January 15, 2008 3:44 PM

Both Arizona and Oklahoma have new laws effective 2008 that severely punish business for hiring illegals. Anecdotal evidence from newspapers indicates that illegals are leaving both states.

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the reports. I do not know if the illegals are leaving the US, or if they are going to less restrictive states. What I do know is that we have been given a contrast in policy that may be evaluated as the year progresses.

One thing to note is that illegals who are of a terrorist bent rather than an economic one will probably be unaffected by the change in law. For them, only border enforcement will be effective. I cannot see McCain pursuing either of these options with any enthusiasm or efficiency because his heart is not in it.

Posted by: NRA Life Member at January 15, 2008 4:08 PM

Re, Brendan's observation, "(Unlike Hugh Hewitt, who I fear at this point is doing more damage to himself than McCain. Even though I agree with Hewitt.)". Ditto here buddy.

Posted by: NRA Life Member at January 15, 2008 4:21 PM

McCain has stabbed Conservatives in the back every chance he gets. I see no reason to think he will not continue this trend. THerefore, if McCain is nominated, I will be sitting this one out. There is not a huge glaring difference between McCain and any of the liberal candidates.

Also, no the border can not be sealed. However, it can be made so that getting accross is difficult and the penalties for getting caught are steep enough that the risk outweighs the gain. That will will bring it to the point that the people crossing can be hunted as the criminals they are.

Posted by: maddirishman at January 15, 2008 4:25 PM

McCain would probably be stronger on enforcement than any Democrat and most establishment Republicans. If you want enforcement by someone who could be elected, your best bet is McCain.

I really doubt that any president could withhold funds from a 'sanctuary city' that is not actually breaking the law without changing the statutes that are the basis of the funds. So Congress has to be involved.

Finally, we really need immigration. Their payroll taxes are a big help on Social Security and Medicare. They are filling the need for low level workers in the health care industry. If not for them health care would be even more costly than it is already. People who have done nothing wrong except evade immigration laws and have worked hard and are contributing to our economy should be able to pay a substantial fine and apply for a visa. It would be a shame to lose them.

Posted by: Jim Linnane at January 15, 2008 4:35 PM


I take electability with a huge grain of salt. It tends to mean: the guy I like, based on these data points. Maybe McCain can be elected, but when MSM goes from cheerleader to hater, how will he fund his message? Can the guy fund raise for a general against Dems?

Electability does not start or end at the latest RCP head to head polls.


Posted by: Brendan at January 15, 2008 5:28 PM

JIm, that is like saying that it is OK to rob a bank as long as you work hard and pay taxes. Also, most illegals do no0t pay payroll taxes because they work for cash. They do remove resources from our system though. They go to the ER and then don't pay the bill. That is a significant part of our increased healthcare costs.

Posted by: maddirishman at January 15, 2008 5:50 PM

Madirishman-It's silly to equate robbing banks, or any significant offense, with being in the US illegally-either morally or legally. People who come here to improve their lives, and those of their families, are hardly comitting a grave offense. As a Catholic I'd say it's the most venial of sins-especially as these people are then handed jobs when they get here. So do we want them gone or not? We're giving out some rather mixed signals.

And crossing the border without documentation is a misdemeanor, not a felony-in every sense the equivalent of a minor trafic offense. It's easy to get on your high horse and condemn them for being here. Let's check to see what laws we ourselves break every day. Do you ALWAYS stay within the speed limit? Never drive with three drinks in your system? Always come to a complete stop at a stop sign? Iif you're perfect, then you can condemn.

You'll find very few economist who would that on net we don't benefit from immigration, legal or otherwise. So maybe the problem is that we just don't like the brown people.

Posted by: John Salmon at January 16, 2008 3:50 PM

Oh here we go. John, you had a decent case working until you accuse others of xenaphobia with zero evidence.

I'm on your side in this debate--we need these workers--but you can't just make up shit and expect others to adopt your position. Illegals cost money as well as make money for us. How can we keep the money they make for us and get them to pay their share?

Or am I a hater for even asking?

Posted by: spongeworthy at January 16, 2008 4:11 PM

That "illegal" immigrants are a net gain for the economy, and a huge one at that, is frankly not a matter of serious debate even among true conservative economists. Ask Cato or WFB. This notion that they come here far away from their families in order to lazily emburden our welfare system with its meager benefits is absolute nonsense. They do the jobs your spoiled "American" young adults look down their nose at doing, and they do so for cheap wages. We are already "keeping" that costsavings throughout the economy, so stop bellyaching about them "paying their fair share" and thank God you were arbitrarily born here and, hence, are a citizen. Grow up babies and gain some decency while youre at it.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at January 16, 2008 7:27 PM
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