Grover Norquist may be the most influential advocate for lower taxes over the last three decades. He has also pushed the Republican Party to embrace freer immigration, including this year's proposed overhaul of the system. In July, Editor in Chief Matt Welch spoke with Norquist about immigration reform at the FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas.
Q: You have been pushing very hard for immigration reform for about 30 years. There's a lot of conservative Republican grassroots opposition in the House of Representatives. Does the opposition have a point about the largeness and unwieldiness of the [current] bill?
A: What you're trying to reform is a big, messy collection of previous legislation. So if you're going to address the stupid things we've been doing, it's going to be a long bill. We could do it piecemeal, except there's a lot of opposition by the labor unions, the left. The reason we're in the mess we're in is that organized labor didn't like the guest worker program we had under Eisenhower. So they killed it.
They put in regulations in the '20s which were discriminatory-and deliberately meant to be. We're trying to extricate ourselves from that history and come up with a reasonable level of immigration.
We have a 55 mile-an-hour speed limit immigration policy, when the cars on the roads are built for 75 and 80. When we had the 55 mile-an-hour speed limit under Carter, we didn't run around saying: "We must enforce the law first. Before we consider changing the speed limit, we should imprison everybody who was involved in speeding." That's silly. You say: "You change the stupid law, and then you enforce it."
Q: We've heard a lot of discussion from Republican opponents to comprehensive reform-and also from gleeful Democrats-that this issue threatens to rip apart the GOP. Is that true? And why has this become such an emotional question, particularly for opponents of reform?
A: It's very interesting. First of all, this is a problem for the Democratic Party. It's the Democrats that spent the first two years of Obama's administration not doing anything. Why? Because they're paralyzed by the radical environmentalists, who don't like people at all, and by the union people, who don't want more people coming in and working.
So Obama-who killed the 2007 bill by coming in with the amendment to do away with a guest worker program-becomes president, says he's for all this stuff, doesn't lift a finger for the two years when he could've done it any day of the week. He now has to pretend to be for it. I worry that he has every intention of killing it, hoping that Republicans will get the blame.
There are a lot of people who are mad about welfare, but they scream at immigrants. They're mad about the entitlement programs. The Heritage Foundation says, "Do you know that immigrants would come in and get three times as much out of Medicare as they put in?" That's also true of babies born in the United States.
Q: You hear a lot of talk from the [Sens.] John McCain and Lindsay Grahams of the world that Republicans basically have to do this electorally, they're committing suicide if they don't sign on to something. Do you agree with that, and do you think that's an effective, persuasive argument?
A: If we don't deal with the 11 million undocumented and stop threatening to deport them, you cannot have a civil conversation with Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans and Subcontinent Americans, because all of the ones that vote and are citizens have a relative, a friend, a neighbor who has been threatened with deportation.