The Republican Zugzwang on Immigration

zugzwang“When an opponent comes forward, move in and greet him; if he wants to pull back, send him on his way.”

Morihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido

There is no good move for the Republicans on immigration now.

First, despite all the screams to the contrary, they know that Obama is within the limits of the law when he made his announcement. Yes, unlike the millions of clueless conservatives, I read the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) currently in force, Ted Kennedy’s brainchild of back in 1965, which now mysteriously became the favorite law of Republicans and conservatives. Yes, the Law places all power and authority in the area of immigration and travel and visiting and work in the hands of the Executive. There is no power given to Congress, and there is no power given to the courts in it when it comes to immigration. The courts only have the power to decide on naturalization, which is different from immigration. For all the decisions concerning immigration issues or non-immigration permits and visas, the decisions are made by the Attorney General (part of the Executive), with some made by the Secretary of State (part of the Executive), and some veto and revocation power given to the Director of the DHS (part of the Executive). And of course, they all can delegate their authority down the hierarchy, to the lowest bureaucratic levels in the US Consulates around the world.

And in most cases, the law doesn’t have any objective criteria as to who gets admitted and who doesn’t. The criteria boils down to “the applicant must convince the consular officer.” In other words, the consular officer subjectively decides. Which should lead us to a reality check for those conservatives today who self-righteously proclaim they are only against illegal immigration, not against legal immigration: the difference between the two is a subjective decision by a low-level Federal bureaucrat.

But the most important reality check is this: Republicans are wrong in this case. Obama didn’t do anything illegal; he just used the powers given to him in the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Congress has no power to act to stop him; the only way to act is to completely scrap the old law and write a new law.

And, I believe, this is exactly what Obama’s purpose is.

Second, the claims that Obama is doing that to increase the Democrat voting base are rather unfounded. To start with, Obama’s announcement wasn’t that the “illegals” are granted citizenship status, which would allow them to vote. Such status is given only by the courts, and under specific conditions. One condition is that the person must have lived in the country for 5 years on an immigrant visa. Even if these aliens are given immigrant visas, they will still need another 5 years to start the procedure for naturalization, and that takes about 6 months at the minimum. It is hardly reasonable to believe that Obama – in opposition even to his own party and voters’ base, as we will see shortly – is doing this to plan 6 years ahead for an election campaign that would be far beyond his day of comfortable retirement. Since the INA limits the eligibility for immigration to certain groups, the legalization proclaimed by Obama is under the non-immigrant sections of the INA, which means that under the same INA, those aliens will have to first live for another 5 or 10 years before they are eligible for immigrant status, and then another 5 years before they are eligible for citizenship. This means that the influence will be felt not earlier than 10 years from now, most probably 15 years from now. The only real political effect will be felt in 2020 at the next Census: the Census doesn’t distinguish between citizens and non-citizen residents, so the presence of more aliens in a state will increase it numbers towards more Congressional representation. Which means that the states that attract more workers – and therefore resident aliens – will get better representation in Congress after 2020. Given the fact that states with Republican majorities lead in economic growth over states with Democratic majorities – as my home state of Texas does – after 2020, Obama’s “amnesty” will increase the chances of the Republicans, not of the Democrats. Not to mention that contrary to many, there is no recognizable secure pattern of political affiliation among the illegal aliens. The studies on this issue are based on the political affiliations of the established US Hispanics who have acquired certain voting habits over the last couple of generations, and many of these studies are quite unreliable. After all, Texas, for all its Hispanic population, continues to vote Republican, right? Texas and California have the same percentage of Hispanic population and yet, the voting patterns are completely opposite. Nothing can be proven about how immigrants would vote.

Add to this the fact that a number of traditionally Democratic-voting groups are quite unhappy with the legalization of millions of aliens. The black community, for example. (See here and here.) The trade unions have also been traditional opponents of immigration – for understandable reasons – and the recent beating the Democratic Party took in states like Illinois may be due in part to Obama’s position on immigration.

The situation is thus even more illogical given the fact that Obama didn’t have to announce anything. The law, as it is, allows executive action without any fanfares, and therefore without creating additional problems with the Democratic base which is hostile to immigration. The administration could just proceed by giving the aliens that status on individual basis, and it would be perfectly legal, by the same INA.

So, while most conservatives and Christians were fuming and foaming over Obama’s speech, because they only see the surface of it and not thinking clearly about the real situation, my questions were: “Why is he doing this? What is he trying to accomplish that is not visible on the surface? Why is he taking action that is completely illogical by the reality of his own position and of the situation?”

Gary Kasparov said once that the way he wins in chess is by thinking two or three moves ahead. Part of that winning in chess is to try to force your opponents make a move that would either weaken his position or strengthen your chances to win.

Obama’s action being inexplicable by the immediate logic of the situation, logically, we have to look for something else, for a bait and a trap for Republicans to make a move that would strengthen the Democrats’ position or weaken the Republicans’s position.

And truly indeed, that bait and that trap is there, in his speech. Obama challenged the Republicans to pass a law which would make his executive action unnecessary.

But why? Why would he challenge them to pass such a law just a week after the Republicans won both Congress and the Senate? Isn’t he afraid they have the majority to pass a law that would thwart his plans?

No, he isn’t. He has them in the corner. No matter what they do, they will play by his rules.

If they don’t act, of course, then Obama has established the rule which Progressives wanted to establish long ago, concerning immigration: Both a law that limits immigration and declares certain classes of immigrants illegal, and an executive which grants forgiveness to those whom they want to. It’s not open borders, as so many conservatives incorrectly assume, it is the opposite of open borders. Open borders is zero government intervention in immigration, as the US was for over 140 years until 1921. Immigration restrictions plus executive amnesty is double government intervention, with the Federal government playing both the law-giver and the grace-giver, and thus having the masses of immigrants under its control.

But what if they act and pass such a law that would fix the situation?

There’s only one possible option for such a law: National ID. The law has already been proposed but it was stopped because the Republicans saw the danger. Rand Paul specifically talked about it here. There is no way around it: There is no other way to track down and deport the millions of illegal immigrants already in the US. Cracking down on employers won’t do it; the law has had sanctions for employers since 1986, and yet, things haven’t changed. Those who hire immigrants do it below the radar. The only way will be for the Federal government to be able to round up people on the streets and ask them for their papers. Which can be done in only one way: through a National ID system.

Such is always the logical outcome of restrictive immigration laws: once the government starts restricting the liberty of foreigners, it inevitably ends up restricting the liberty of its own citizens. Those conservatives who think that it is possible to have the Federal government be a tyrant to immigrants while leaving US citizens free and unmolested, are deceived. It never works that way. Liberty at all is liberty for all. Advocate the destruction of liberty for others, and expect the destruction of liberty for yourself.

And Republicans will have to go for it. They have worked themselves up into hysteria about illegal immigration. They have built up a momentum to the point of no stop and no return. They will have to go for it. Expect, very soon, a National ID system passed by Republican votes, under the disguise of “immigration reform.”

The wise solution, of course, would be a return to what America used to be: Open borders and limited political franchise. This would pull the rug from under the bureaucrats in DC and from under Obama and the Democrats. This would make it possible for returning the power back to the states, and for scaling back the huge Federal bureaucracies of the DHS, TSA, the bloated apparatus of the State Department and the Consular Service, etc. It will save us a lot of money, and a lot of chaos and confusion. And will free the economy by making a more mobile work force possible, and by limiting the power of the trade unions. Not to mention the healing effect on the work ethic of the younger generation of Americans.

But the Republicans can’t take that route, because they have already unwisely taken a radical, illogical, and uncompromising position on immigration that makes no sense morally, politically, and economically. And they have no choice but to continue in it. They are in a zugzwang.

And Obama was – for once – brilliant in forcing them in that position.

So, enjoy your National ID system, conservatives. It will be passed by Republicans, if that’s of any comfort to you. But the guilt will be on you for your abandonment of the original American ideology of open borders and the acceptance of a socialist, anti-immigration ideology. To repeat: Once you call for the government to oppress the foreigner, you should expect it to come around and oppress you.

Let’s hope that this fiasco will finally make American Christians, and conservatives in general, review their position on immigration and return to the views of the Founding Fathers.


  • You can’t have open borders with a welfare state.

    • Actually, you can’t have a welfare state survive with closed borders. A welfare state produces entitlement mentality in its own people, and eventually it is the homeborn who are the true leeches in the system, while first-generation immigrants are the necessary blood transfusion. The more a welfare state closes it borders, the more it limits the market competition, and the more it takes away the market incentive for the lazy homeborn to work, innovate, and grow in knowledge and skills.

      Reality works opposite to political propaganda, and it is political propaganda that told you that “you can’t have open borders with a welfare state.”

    • We should abolish the Welfare State.

  • Excellent article. In reference to your comments on California voting, if you look at the voting map, the vast majority of California is red, where most of the immigrants work in the fields. The only blue in the state are the large cities.

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