By many accounts, the Republican leadership (at least in the House, where Speaker John Boehner bestrides the chamber like a leather-skinned Colossus), is working to pull together some sort of "immigration reform" that will doubtless go poorly. Already one wing of the GOP is clamoring that "Amnesty=Suicide" and the other is…saying that newcomers are welcome but only after we finish building a 10,000-foot-tall fence that stretches along the coast from San Diego to Boston's Logan Airport.
In my latest Daily Beast col, I suggest that, if the GOP is actually serious about its limited-government rhetoric, it should use the immigration issue as a way to talk about reducing the size, scope, and spending of the federal government—especially on welfare programs for the native-born folks who have become increasingly dependent on such handouts since George W. Bush increased spending on food stamps, disability claims, and unfunded extensions of long-term unemployment benefits.
Republicans insist that the federal government is too inefficient and incompetent to deliver the mail or to oversee health care, but it's nonetheless qualified to police thousands of miles of borders and run employment checks on hundreds of millions of workers? Come on guys, get your story straight.
The simple fact, one that Republicans should embrace, is that governments don't really control aggregate immigration flows any more than they control aggregate consumer demand. Immigration is the result of far larger forces than even totalitarian governments can control, including economic opportunity in the destination country and material conditions in the home country….
In late 2008 and early 2009 – a period in which spending authority was shared by Presidents Bush and Obama – real federal outlays shot up to around $10,000 per capita and show no signs of coming down anytime soon. Indeed, budget deals these days seem to be little more than bi-partisan raids on proposed spending reductions such as the sequester.
If Republicans are really the party of free trade and limited government – and if they really believe in American exceptionalism and the lure of the Shining City Upon a Hill – they'll take this opportunity to welcome immigrants while rolling back the welfare state.