Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) has led the effort in the House to fix immigration laws in the most conservative and free market way possible. Labrador has not floundered in the immigration waters, stammering out apologies for his views or flipping to new ones. Rather, he has stuck to his one basic principle: Congress created this problem. It is time for them to fix it.
Unlike other immigration reformers in the GOP, there is no clear incentive for Labrador to stick his neck out on the issue. In the short-term at least, Labrador lacks the transparent national ambitions of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and is still more likely to be defeated in a primary than in a general election by a Democrat backed by Hispanic voters.
Instead, Labrador, a former-immigration attorney, simply understands America’s immigration system in a much more detailed way than most legislators involved in the debate. He wants to fix the system not to pander or to make himself a national figure, but to rectify the real problems with the system, that both are in humane and hamper economic growth.
“Pandering to the Hispanic community,” he said in a recent interview, “is actually a recipe for disaster.” As an example of the depth of the congressman’s views, he recently targeted the administration’s executive overreach on immigration, but rather than going for the typical easy target, enforcement, he discussed how the administration has thwarted businessmen who want to bring migrant workers here legally.
Businesses “are saying that they are getting unprecedented numbers of questions being sent by the Department of Labor when they have to do a labor certification,” he said recently, “They are adding requirements that were not in the law before…. My concern is that this administration, even if we make a system that works, is going to make it through regulation much more difficult for businesses to actually utilize the program.”
The administration has jacked up the wage rates for H-2a agricultural workers by more than 20 percent and has demanded ever greater evidence for farm shortages. “We’re trying to do it right, and we’re the ones who are getting punished,” Al Pedigo, a Kentucky tobacco farmer, said in 2011. “I feel like the government is discouraging us from using these workers, and I’m sure they are, but there just aren’t other workers to do this physical, seasonal work.”
On Meet the Press, after the Senate bill was introduced, Labrador immediately recognized its main flaw. “The guest worker portion of the Senate bill starts out at 20,000 guest workers per year—think about that,” he said. “I’ve had some congressmen say, ‘Do you mean 20,000 per county? 20,000 per state?’ … You’re not going to cut back illegal immigration by only bringing 20,000 guest workers.”
Nor has Labrador needed to reinvent himself on what to do about those here illegally. “Massive police roundups are frightening and expensive, and they will deplete our resources,” he stated during his 2010 campaign. “I would offer illegals who have a desire to become legal productive members of our society an incentive to come forward. Should they do so willingly and within some reasonable time frame, we would give them consideration… to remain legally.”
Today, his tone sounds similar. Legalization “comports with all of the promises most Republicans make in their campaigns,” he said in February. As he told Fox News in June, “I think that there should be a path to legal status and that they should use the current legalization and legal permanent residence and citizenship laws.” He wants to end “the fear of deportation,” he told The Washington Post.
But what the congressman has made clear repeatedly is that he will not accept any kind of reform. He has demanded that border security be included, and he abandoned negotiations with the bipartisan House coalition working on reform when they refused to require immigrants to pay for their own health care. “Unless you make them personally responsible for health insurance, it’s the taxpayer that’s going to pay,” he said afterwards.
Although cognizant of immigration’s difficulties, Labrador wants all immigrants treated with respect, condemning as “reprehensible” Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) depiction of young unauthorized immigrants as just drug mules. Labrador’s attitude represents the more libertarian wing of the GOP. Indeed, after his vote last week to stop NSA warrantless surveillance of phone records, he said, “I actually think the libertarian streak is the wave of the future of the Republican Party.”
Let’s hope so.