Linda Chavez makes small-government argument for immigration reform


GOING AGAINST THE CONSERVATIVE TIDE: Former Reagan administration executive Linda Chavez argues in favor of immigration reform from a small-government perspective. But she’s getting pushback from opponents on the right.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. – She’s sure to get flak from the political right who insist the border is porous, but long-time Republican and former Reagan administration official Linda Chavez says the Border Patrol shouldn’t be spending its time and money “chasing down gardeners and nannies.”

Instead, she argues, immigration laws should be revamped along what she says are small-government principles.

“We shouldn’t have laws that are ridiculous,” Chavez told New Mexico Watchdog during a recent visit to Santa Fe.

“We have a law now that says if you want to have somebody mow your lawn every week, you better check their papers and you better keep a record … and keep the documentation for five years. And if you fire that person and hire somebody two weeks later, you better keep those papers too. That’s big government and Big Brother writ large … Since when it is a conservative idea that I have to call the federal government to ask to hire somebody? How is that conservative?”

But Bob Dane, communications director at the Federation for Immigration Reform, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C. that favors stricter border enforcement, said Chavez is off-base.

“You want to talk about big government,” said Dane in a telephone interview. “The net effect would be destabilization, higher unemployment, less disposable income and higher individual and corporate taxes, all adversely affecting the business climate. That’s not a small-government approach. That’s crony capitalism. It’s big government attempting to gain the big appetites for big business to flood the market with unlimited and unregulated flows of immigration that displaces U.S. workers and corrodes wages.”

Chavez just launched her own nonprofit and policy organization, called the Becoming American Institute and based in Boulder, Colo., as a way to “reach out to conservatives and basically tell the good news about how well Hispanics are assimilating, including Hispanic immigrants.”

Chavez agreed “our borders need to be secured,” but also said, “the border is more secure today than it has been at any point in my lifetime, certainly.”

Last month, a coalition of sheriffs from border states in the Southwest met in Santa Fe and said just the opposite. Boards from five sheriffs’ organizations issued a three-page statement describing he immigration crisis as “spiraling out of control” and calling on the federal government to resist “outright amnesty” for people in the country illegally.

“The focus is getting the really bad guys,” Chavez said, “and letting (in) the good guys, the people who just want to work. Mexican-born men have the highest force participation rate of any group — 30 percent higher than whites do. These people want to work. They don’t want to get welfare.”

“Coming here to work does not permission an individual to break the law,” Dane countered. “Probably about half the world would love to come to the United States to work, but we have a finite amount of jobs and it does not permission that active entering without inspection.”

Chavez argues for overhauling the immigration law spearheaded in 1965 by former Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., that instituted a preference system and emphasized, in part, the family connections of potential immigrants. Instead, Chavez said immigration rules should be tied to market considerations.

“We ought to take a look at what our economic needs are,” Chavez said. “It ought to be market-based. We ought to bring in more people in boom times and fewer people when times are bad … and we need to make the process streamlined.”

MAKING A STATEMENT: A coalition of sheriffs in the Southwest issued a statement in September calling on tougher and better coordinated programs to address on the border.

Danes said there are plenty of Americans in technology-related fields who are undercut by foreign workers who get paid less.

“We don’t need big government to properly enforce the laws already on the books,” Dane said. “We already have enough (laws), we already have enough resources. The only thing that needs to be added is the will by this administration to follow the law.”

Chavez contends the current law is badly flawed and its enforcement mechanism is “nutty.”

“Yes, we should have respect for law and therefore we should pass laws that are enforceable and make sense,” she said. “We don’t make employers be border patrol agents … We could save a lot of money. Again, when has it become a conservative idea to throw money at a problem? But when you hear about the border it’s, ‘Let’s throw more money, let’s hire more people, let’s get more government employees.’ ”

Dane said Chavez’s recommendations are “wedded to” calls from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an organization whose policies, FAIR says, keep wages depressed for workers already in the country.

“That may be the market and economic solution for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and for Linda Chavez, but that’s the worst possible scenario for the put-upon American worker,” Dane said. “We need to establish a better equilibrium between the supply of foreign labor and the available amount of jobs. Nobody can make the case for more immigration from the standpoint of a surplus of jobs. It’s simply not true and hasn’t been true for a long time, if it ever was.

“Do you want to pay $5 for a tomato at the grocery store? I don’t think so,” Chavez said. “Do you want (a lot) of these jobs shipped overseas?”

Dane’s response? “We’ve got plenty of American workers, skilled and unskilled, and, mostly importantly, unemployed Americans, ready willing and able to work.”

Active in politics for decades and a syndicated conservative columnist, Chavez said she’s aware her stance will draw fire from some on the right.

“I’ve been standing up for what I thought was right,” she said. “I stood up against liberals and I’m happy to stand up against those people on my side of the fence that I think are doing to the wrong thing and the wrong thing for America.”

Here’s an excerpt from New Mexico Watchdog’s interview with Chavez: