The claim by House Republican leadership that the nation’s “founding principles” can be used to justify offering amnesty to the children of illegal aliens has no support, contend a number of constitutional scholars.
A Republican primary challenger to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has latched on to the issue.
Dave Brat points to the GOP’s released immigration principles, which state:
One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents.
The line comes verbatim from a Cantor speech in February 2013.
Brat told this reporter it “dishonors the Founders to invoke the founding principles as a battering ram to fight for crony capitalists.”
He contends it was “never a constitutional principle that we ought to take care of any problem where parents made mistakes,” adding:
We expect these Orwellian language games on the Democratic side, not from a Republican.
Brat is a Randolph-Macon College economics professor who has attracted grassroots support in Cantor’s district.
“The Founders should be revered because they stood for the rule of law, not the rule of emotion,” he said. “By emotionalizing the immigration issue, Cantor is not solving any problems.”
John Pinheiro, a historian at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., said the Republican leadership “has made up a new ‘principle’ to suit their Wall Street and Chamber of Commerce sponsors who want cheap labor.”
Historian Douglas W. Richmond told me, “I sympathize for the children of illegals but rewarding them is inappropriate and a bad precedent.”
Richmond is emeritus professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington and author of “The Mexican Nation: Historical Continuity and Modern Change.”
“To permit illegals to demand legal status is a contradiction of terms,” he said.
Ilya Somin, a George Mason University law professor, agrees with the Republican leadership’s application of the “founding principles” to immigration.
I think this part of the GOP’s announced principles is very much in accordance with the values of the American founding, except in that it does not go far enough.
Somin further noted that the Founders “strongly supported free immigration, and under the original meaning of the Constitution, Congress was not given the authority to restrict it.”
Making an appeal to “economic freedom,” he argued:
Ultimately, conservatives and others who believe in economic freedom should also believe in freedom of movement for people who cross international boundaries in search of opportunity.
Pinheiro strongly disagrees, insisting there “was no national system of immigration during the early republic because the States were understood to be the source of American citizenship”:
The founding is not the place to look for precedent and scripture-like assuredness on immigration.
Rather, look at the grand sweep of American history and you will see periods of massive immigration followed by curbs on immigration in the name of assimilation.
Nationality and culture
Clues to the Founders’ position on immigration can be found in their beliefs about nationality and culture.
In the Federalist Papers, John Jay’s Federalist No. 2 wrote:
With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice, that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country, to one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established their general liberty and independence.
Opponents of granting legal status to children of illegal immigrants are concerned that it would promote further violations of immigration law.
“Legalization doesn’t solve any problems,” Brat said. “There are still two parents who are here illegally, and granting citizenship will only incentivize even more illegal immigration.”
Similarly, Richmond argues that to say “children should not be punished for the mistakes of their parents goes against the integrity of legal immigration.”
Pointing to the issue of assimilation, Pinheiro said:
Never until recently did Americans think it would be a good idea to encourage the subsistence of languages and cultures among immigrants, as opposed to having a common culture.
After the release of the GOP immigration principles, pro-amnesty Republicans were roundly criticized for their apparent willingness to trust Obama with enforcement in exchange for amnesty.
Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution remarked wryly, “I don’t know why they would trust [Obama] after they told us not to trust him” on just about every important issue.
The eagerness to trust Obama has the widely acknowledged failure of the 1986 amnesty as a historical backdrop.
In 1986, the Simpson-Mazzoli Bill promised enforcement in exchange for amnesty. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., at the time said:
We will secure the borders henceforth. We will never again bring forward another amnesty bill like this.