David R. Henderson  

Limbaugh Comes Around on Immigration Policy

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I was driving home from a hiking trip on Friday and tuned into Rush Limbaugh's show for longer than I usually do. (My morning commute is 11 minutes.) He raised an issue I heard him raise a few months ago, but I thought then that he wasn't serious. However, I heard him say it again this morning.

Limbaugh advocates, and wants Republicans to advocate, allowing the 11 million or so immigrants who are here illegally to immigrate, assuming that they have not committed other crimes besides the crime of being here and working illegally. His one condition is that they not have a pathway to citizenship or that if they do, the path takes many years. He pointed out, correctly, I think that this will not get much traction among Democrats because a large percentage of Democratic politicians see a pathway to citizenship as a pathway to more Democratic voters.

Limbaugh's proposed policy is one that I have advocated for many years. (See here, for example.)

In this year of a very dismal choice between the two major-party candidates for President, there haven't been many optimistic signs other than the Gary Johnson campaign.* Limbaugh's proposal is one good sign.

*For what I think of as Gary Johnson's best showing yet (other than his Fair Tax idea which would make virtually every U.S. resident a welfare recipient), see his Fox News interview with Chris Wallace.

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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Ben H. writes:

"This will not get much traction among Democrats because a large percentage of Democratic politicians see a pathway to citizenship as a pathway to more Democratic voters". Come on, that's a very biased depiction about what Democrats think about this. I'm not even a Democrat, and that depiction strikes me as nothing but partisanship. The objection to immigration without a pathway to citizenship is that it creates a separate "worker class" of immigrants without the rights of citizens, who are inevitably treated like crap and have no say over the laws of the country in which they permanently reside. We've seen how that looks, in countries like Singapore and the UAE, and it is not pretty. Part of the "package deal" is often that even the children of such workers do not receive citizenship, thereby creating a permanent non-citizen worker underclass by governmental fiat. If you believe in open borders – and I do – then this is a deeply immoral situation: an attempt by the people of one country to reap the economic benefits of free migration of workers, while treating those people as nothing but chattel. It's a deeply shameful proposition. But then, the minute you agree with Rush Limbaugh about anything, you ought to think twice.

Peter H writes:

Limbaugh is wrong that Democrats would not agree to such a deal, as they have in the past agreed to an extended period before naturalization. Though they have insisted that eventual naturalization is an element of any bill.

The 2013 gang of eight bill, which Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress endorsed, had a 13 year waiting period before citizenship.

Given Limbaugh's being on the air at the time and commenting extensively on the bill, he would have certainly known this to be true.

Limbaugh is lying to his audience.

Jon Murphy writes:

I think this also represents an important point that many anti-immigration people miss: immigration is not necessarily going to turn into naturalization. To reject immigrants because of how they might vote is to confuse the matter.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Peter H,
The 2013 gang of eight bill, which Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress endorsed, had a 13 year waiting period before citizenship.
Thanks, Peter H. It turns out that you’re right. For some reason, that 13-year wait was not talked about much at the time. The details are here.
The main provisions I don’t like are the extensive border controls and the E-Verify. The latter would be a major blow to free labor markets. I wonder if Limbaugh would agree with me about how bad these provisions are.
I guess the fact that he lied is evidence that he is the type of person he despises: the drive-by.

Jacob A Geller writes:

In Limbaughland (which is not the same thing as Limbaugh himself), and in Breitbartland, and the like, any legalization of undocumented immigrants of any kind, even without a pathway to citizenship, is considered "amnesty," which is a four-letter word.

Just ask John Kasich.

Or type "Kasich amnesty" into Google and see what comes up.

It's not pretty.

Kasich, Rubio, Jeb Bush, and others badly misjudged how unacceptable the prospect of legal status of any kind would be to Republican primary voters, and that's a big reason why none of them are the Republican nominee right now.

The experience of the Gang of Eight bill suggests that Democrats would be on board with a bill that offers legal status and a (long, arduous) pathway to citizenship for only a subset of current undocumented immigrants, OR anything more lenient on undocumented immigrants than that, though probably not the bill that Kasich promised would pass both houses of Congress if he were president (legalization with no pathway to citizenship), and that Republicans in the House in particular would probably not support a bill of either kind, though that would probably depend a lot on what party the president was from, for McConnell-esque, scortched-earth, deny-the-enemy-any-sort-of-victory reasons.

Things like E-Verify and border controls are details that only change the above on the margins, and don't break down neatly along party lines. (Democrats are generally in favor of tight border controls and have demonstrated that with their votes, Hillary and Obama included; E-Verify was an optional product of the Clinton 1 administration and is now a pet project of mostly Republican governors and statehouse, and is opposed by both liberal immigration activists and otherwise Republican-leaning business interests; etc.)

"Good luck!" as Tyler Cowen likes to say...

Jacob A Geller writes:

PS - I agree that E-Verify is not a great thing for labor markets, but I wonder about the border security too. I'm not sure how serious a problem border controls would be for labor markets -- historical experience suggests that immigration restrictions in general may "lock in" many undocumented immigrants who otherwise would be seasonal workers even as they keep others out, and net illegal immigration has been about zero for going on a decade now -- but if you're interested in a look at what border fencing for example can do to business interests see for example the excellent piece in Roads & Kingdoms about Robert Lucio's golf course. ("One Last Tee Off In Texas," by Aaron Nelson, Roads & Kingdoms, 2016)

One may reasonably ask, "OK, but how many golf courses are there really on the border?" And the answer is not many, but I would note that "border" enforcement already actually extends more than a hundred miles into the United States, away from the border, and includes both immigration checkpoints on major highways and roads and "border" fencing... Worth a ponder...

shecky writes:

I'm always curious about the insistence that illegal immigrants must obviously want the carrot of citizenship. As if America is such a remarkably wonderful place, everyone in the world wants some American citizenship, because of course they do.

It seems to me the biggest desire illegal immigrants have is to be left alone to work without fear of being deported. Now, citizenship would be a way to accomplish this. It might be easier to simply leave them alone.

Another curiosity is the endorsement of a "punitively" long waiting period to get that wonderful prize called citizenship. Yet it seems that there are plenty of folks wanting to migrate legally, completely above the board, willing to follow every rule and hurdle, have found the process already absurdly punitive, for no obvious reason.

And finally, if conservatives oppose immigration/legalization because they might become Democrats, I can only say this starts to look like a pretty morally bankrupt position. And it's become obvious to even the most oblivious why this is so during Trump's successful campaign. It's been obvious to me, a Latino, for years, that Latinos aren't running to the Democrats. They've been driven to the Democrats by hostile conservative leaders, elected officials, all the way down to the rank and file. With Trump, the mask has finally been discarded, and outspoken white supremacists have propped up Trump as one of their own. Conservatives bemoaning immigrants leaning left have nobody but themselves to blame for letting the darker tendencies to coexist with the loftier ideals conservatives traditionally promoted.

David R. Henderson writes:

I'm always curious about the insistence that illegal immigrants must obviously want the carrot of citizenship. As if America is such a remarkably wonderful place, everyone in the world wants some American citizenship, because of course they do.
Good point. By the way, when I immigrated to the United States, I didn’t care at first whether I became a citizen. As I have pointed out to my students when I teach public choice, an individual’s vote rarely matters.

MikeDC writes:

I don't think that anyone has touched the reason I hear when I talk to major opponents of immigration, which is that they don't believe their political opponents would credibly hold up their end of the bargain.

The basic concept of immigration reform proposals seems to be Amnesty for existing illegals in exchange for institutional reform to prevent more illegals in the future.

Immigration opponents are very mindful of the fact that previous amnesties weren't the "last time" an amnesty was needed.

Hence, any deal to be made is an immediate concession on the part of immigration opponents in exchange for a promise of future behavior from immigration proponents.

Opponents are right to question both whether proponents can and will bind their future actions.

From the perspective of an immigration opponent, what sort of immigration reforms would be "trustworthy"?

I'm not an immigration opponent on the whole, but I think it's fair for an immigration opponent to question both the good faith and effectiveness of the concessions they'd be "getting" in the sort of bargains I see.

Rich Milligan writes:

Henderson and Limbaugh are correct on all points. Grant all 11 million Green Cards; the right to stay and work legally but no firearms, no passports, and no vote.
- Legal right to work is what 90 % of undocumented immigrants want. That's all. Voting is not important. Their American-born kids can do the voting.
- No right to firearms is what Liberals want. Should be no issue.
- No passports prevents the back and forth to Middle-East countries. Stop the terrorist links.

Can this get past Democratic liberals? Nope! If they (Liberals) can't get the votes, then they would just as soon illegals stay illegal. How hypocritical is that?

Anthony C. writes:

You don't listen enough apparently, or did a little google research before posting.


Limbaugh's plan, if you could call it that, has long been legalization but no voting for 25 years. The problem he also points out, is that five minutes after the ink is dry on any law that legalized the illegals, Democrats like Chuck Schumer would find the nearest camera and lament the sad, sad fact that we are not allowing these poor non-citizens full access to the rights afforded other Americans. From then on, Democrats would push for voting rights for the newly minted legal residents as hard as they do now for amnesty and a path to citizenship.

Robert Dell writes:


The FairTax prebate (or demogrant) is not really a "welfare" payment, but a mechanism for eliminating taxation on private spending up to the federally-defined poverty level, making the tax more consumption-progressive than it would be otherwise (and probably more consumption-progressive than the current system). The Fairtax legislation (as well as suggested improvements by economists such as Larry Kotlikoff and Arnold Kling) are worthy of presidential campaign advocacy because, of all the major tax reform proposals, the FairTax is the most efficient, taxing the widest possible base with the lowest comprehensive marginal rate. When former Dallas Fed President Robert McTeer asked Milton Friedman what he thought of the idea, Friedman's reaction was positive. And it has far more potential to unite people with differing political ideologies, as I suggest in the linked article.


David R. Henderson writes:

@Anthony C.
Thanks for the link. For those who want to access it quickly, it’s here.
I’m not sure why you think I “don’t listen enough.” It’s in line with what I quoted hearing him say “a few months ago.” It turns out that the “few months ago” was 10 months ago. Maybe you don’t read carefully enough.
But I do appreciate the link. Transcripts are almost always better than vaguely remembered lines.

Anthony C. writes:

I stand corrected about the exact wording of your blog post, moreover, please excuse if the tone of my reply seemed confrontational. It was not my intent, rather it was written with a weariness, because a few minutes on Google would have not only revealed the transcript, but provided the writer with the specificity to make a tighter post.

A regular listener to Rush would have remembered it, thus my comment that you don't listen enough, because you admittedly only listen for a few minutes during your short commute.

Thanks for fixing the link, I was on a cramped laptop.

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