Carson, Bush, Santorum Release Immigration Plans

The U.S.-Mexican border at Nogales, Ariz.
The U.S.-Mexican border at Nogales, Ariz.

It’s generally acknowledged that in order to win in 2016, Republicans will have to do better with Latinos than the abysmal 27 percent of the vote Mitt Romney got in 2016.  In order to do that, candidates need to articulate a message on immigration.  As the campaign season heats up this summer, presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson are doing just that.  Here’s what they said, and how it measures up to the challenge of securing our border and fixing a broken immigration system.

Rick Santorum

Senator Rick Santorum came out swinging at a Monday candidate forum, saying he would attack the source of the problem.  Santorum said he would expand E-Verify, a system that makes it easier for employees to check documentation and increase the likelihood of catching undocumented immigrants, arguing that “E-Verify has to be universal and employees future and current have to comply.”  Santorum also pledged to reduce the number of legal immigrants by 25 percent, claiming that they were a drag on American workers’ wages.

How it stacks up: On the enforcement side of things, no one can fault Santorum.  He’s clearly committed to beefing up security on the border, and I’m a big fan of E-Verify, which is a great way to disincentivize companies that hire illegal immigrants.

That said, Santorum’s plan ignores some crucial details, like how to deal with the 11 million immigrants already here.  I’m not too sure about the argument that wages are being hurt by immigration, either (as I did with Huckabee, I would advise a closer look at Federal Reserve policy to address that).  Santorum has good instincts on border security—and I actually think he’s onto something when he talks about shrinking wages—but his plan needs more details before it’s ready for prime time.

Jeb Bush

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been a longtime advocate of immigration reform, and his latest proposal continues that tradition. First, he offers a detailed description of what border security would look like under his administration, calling for forward operating bases, infrastructure to increase the area patrols can sweep, and drone/sensor technology investment that reads like something out of a science fiction movie.  He also calls for a path to legal status for the 11 million immigrants in the country if they can pass a criminal background check and pay back taxes.

How it stacks up:  Jeb isn’t my first choice (or second or third, for that matter) on a lot of issues, but his new immigration plan is noteworthy.  Before this plan, Jeb had the opposite problem Santorum did: He was strong on the policy aspects of immigration reform but lacking on the border security.  This plan plugs that weakness up, leaving him with a different (but preferable) problem: How’s he going to get the money out of Congress to do it?

Ben Carson

Dr. Ben Carson sat down for a CBS interview this week, where he spoke in detail about his plan to secure the border.  He seemed to take a position between those of Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum, talking about the need to disincentivize future illegal immigration but also about the need to deal compassionately with those already here:

What I said is we have to secure all the borders, not just the southern borders, because it’s not just people from Mexico and Honduras. It’s jihadists. We need to be able to secure those borders. And then we need to turn off the spigot that dispenses all the things that they’re coming here to get.

If there’s no reason for them to come here, that stops the influx. Now, you still have 11.5 million people here, some of whom have never been any place else. Where are you going to send them to? We have to be pragmatic here.

And those people, I would give an opportunity to become guest workers. They have to register. They have to pay a back tax penalty. And they have to pay taxes going forward, but they don’t have to live in the shadows at that point. And also we don’t collapse the farming industry, we don’t collapse the hotel industry and a bunch of other industries. It doesn’t give them citizenship. It doesn’t give them voting rights.

If they want to get citizenship, they get in the back of the line and go through the same process as everybody else.

How it stacks up:  On broad principles, I actually can’t find anything wrong with Dr. Carson’s proposals.  He even remembered to talk about our much-ignored northern border, through which jihadists can slip just as easily as our southern edge.  What he needs, much like Santorum, is a coherent document with details, details, details.  Carson is one of the most thoughtful candidates in the race, and I’ll bet he could write an impressive plan on how to approach the border.

Nick Arnold is a researcher for American Principles in Action.