Side by side comparison of how the Republican and Democrat parties say they want to change immigration law reveals no clear, substantial difference. That is, the party platforms (the formal positions voted for by a majority of activists within each party) provide no clear assurance that either party would better serve the goals either of voters hoping for more liberty for their immigrant families, or of voters hoping for less competition for their jobs. Of course there are clear differences between the legislative agendas of individual candidates in both parties. But those differences aren’t reflected in the majority positions of the parties. And there is plenty of vague rhetoric from candidates.
Both the national Republican Platform (see also) and the Democrat Platform pledge to give us “national/border security”, although neither platform defines the standard by which we can measure when we will have it, or if we already have it. (Full quotes are compared side by side at SaveTheWorld.)
Republicans and Democrats use different words to describe what employers would experience under their administration, but the words are too general to know if employers would experience any difference. Democrats want to “…hold employers accountable for whom they hire.” Republicans want “enforcement at the workplace through…the E-verify program – an internet-based system that verifies the employment authorization and identity of employees [to] be made mandatory nationwide.” The Democrat platform endorses E-verify only indirectly, by endorsing S744 (an immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013) which would have required it nationwide.
Both Republicans and Democrats welcome those who “contribute to society”, roughly defined by both as STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) college graduates. Both want a strict numerical limit on how many to welcome. Democrats point to S744 as containing the number they favor; Republicans don’t say if they would choose a different number.
Democrats want to “…streamline the process of legal immigration for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, supporting family reunification as a priority…” but Democrats also stand by S744, which would have eliminated visas for siblings of citizens. The Republican platform is silent about families. Without specifics from either, it is impossible to guess whether families would be better off with either.
Democrats want a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but not an easy one. Summarizing the terms of S744, they say “…people who are living in the United States illegally….must admit that they broke the law, pay taxes and a penalty, learn English, and get right with the law before they can get in line to earn their citizenship.” The Republican platform blasts “amnesty”, but doesn’t define it, leaving us confused whether the Republican majority would agree the Democrat plan is not amnesty because of its penalties, the way Republicans like Marco Rubio and Donald Trump define “amnesty” (Trump would also require “touchbacks” – going back to the country of birth before returning here), or would say it is amnesty because its penalties have an end, the way Republicans like Ted Cruz define it. Without agreement on what “amnesty” means, it is impossible to know whether Republicans and Democrats agree or disagree about it.
Democrats want legislation to help “youth who came to the United States as children, through no fault of their own, [and who] grew up as Americans and are poised to make a real contribution to our country.” (The DREAM Act.) The Republican platform doesn’t tell us whether Republicans would support it or not. It has been flopping around Congress since 2001 and has always had some support in both parties but not enough to become law either when Democrats controlled Capitol Hill or when Republicans did.
The Democrat platform is silent about “Sanctuary Cities” (whose laws restrict city resources from being volunteered to assist feds with immigration enforcement) while Republicans speak strongly against them. However, this might not translate into a difference in what anyone would experience under either administration, because the Republican platform claims appear to collide with the rulings of courts. Republicans say “federal funding should be denied to sanctuary cities that violate federal law”, but courts don’t agree that sanctuary cities violate federal law. The Republican platform also says “federal funding should be denied to universities that provide in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens, in open defiance of federal law”, but courts apparently don’t agree that in-state rates to undocumented immigrant students violate federal law.
The Republican platform about English is so vague that it cannot be distinguished from current policy, or from anything that any Democrat would want. It sounds somewhat like the “English only” movement to not allow translations of government business, but it falls short of asking that: “…while we encourage the retention and transmission of heritage tongues, we support English as the nation’s official language, a unifying force essential for the educational and economic advancement of – not only immigrant communities – but also our nation as a whole.”
What can we learn from the fact that the official majority positions of Democrats are not clearly different than those of Republicans, on perhaps the most divisive issue of the 2016 election year?
One is that voters need to develop a lot more curiosity about the details of issues, rather than be content with whether campaign generalities sound friendly. They need to care more about the mob approaching them than whether they are smiling.
“Immigrants contribute to our economy so we need to allow more merit-based immigrants” certainly sounds friendlier to immigrants than “Immigrants take our jobs and drive down our wages so we need to reduce merit-based immigrants”, while the latter sounds so much more protective of citizens’ jobs.
But what if, after millions of votes are cast for the smile, and millions more for the frown, each army of voters dismissing the other as traitors, sold out, ignorant, and/or heartless, the masks of generalities come off to reveal the respective numerical limits in detail, and they are the same number? Let’s say, for this example, 120,000? (120,000 merit-based immigrants is the numerical limit in S744, under “Worldwide Level of Merit-based Immigrants.”)
And what if neither army of voters had even thought about whether 120,000 or any other number is the optimum number, so that after finally seeing it their only basis for accepting it as good or bad is whether it was packaged with the smile or the frown?
And what if no one knows of any science able to evaluate whether that number or any different number most benefits citizens? What if in fact there is no science in support of any number over any other, or if there is, neither side is consulting it?
Political generalities without details are useless voter guides. They are reassuring masks behind which there may be friends or enemies. They are rhetorical kisses for voters bored with details and impatient with uncomfortable truths. They are immensely popular blinders which make America less safe.
Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.