A Fence, an Elephant, and a Hairpiece.
Let me start by simply stating the obvious: Republicans, for decades now, have integrated the mantra of “small government” into almost every aspect of their marketing. From the 2012 Republican Party Platform:
This platform affirms that America has always been a place of grand dreams and even grander realities; and so it will be again, if we return government to its proper role, making it smaller and smarter. If we restructure government’s most important domestic programs to avoid their fiscal collapse. If we keep taxation, litigation, and regulation to a minimum.
Indeed, this is more bluntly articulated by Grover Norquist, arguably the most powerful Conservative lobbyist in the country, who famously quipped, “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
There is another policy issue that seems to be dominating the news cycle now: statements being made by political candidates about immigration. Various Republican nominees are attempting to capture the current media cycle, their party’s spotlight, and eventually the Presidency. This is generally entailing a race to the top of the newscast, which coincidentally parallels a race to the bottom of hateful and incendiary rhetoric. While it might be fun to delve into particular gaffes, it ultimately wouldn’t be very helpful.
Instead, I would like to propose that behind all of the bluster, many of the current policy proposals put forward by the Republican nominees are in fundamental contradiction to their own central tenet of limited government involvement in people’s lives.
The First Proposal: A Border Wall
This is probably the most talked about item on the current Republican agenda. And there’s a reason for that: it’s great marketing. Discussing the systemic issues that leads to migration in the first place s something that involves subtlety and nuance. Nominees can state these policies simply:
I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.
That’s something that will dominate a news cycle. It’s full of bluster, and the rhetoric that justifies it is incendiary enough to make the puppet theater of 24 hour news to blab on for at least a day.
But when the talking heads and the policy wonks actually start breaking down what this would cost, things become a little more murky. Before the current controversy, “In a 2007 study the non-partisan Congressional Research Office pegged the bill to construct and maintain (for 25 years) a 700 mile fence to be $49 billion.”
Even if we were to assume that a giant Federal expenditure and the hiring of hundreds of new Federal employees to staff it, there lies the simple fact that most of the American soil that directly borders Mexico is privately owned. Therefore, the Federal Government would have to invoke Eminent Domain, and seize that private property in order to build the border fence.
How is compulsory seizure of private property the actions of a small government again?
Not to be outdone, Scott Walker has called for a similar fortification of the Canadian border, with all the associated seizure of property that it would entail.
The Second Proposal: Repeal the Fourteenth Amendment
Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment reads:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
This was written after the Civil War, when legislators were worried about newfound citizenship being stripped away from African-Americans. To enfranchise people born on US soil was very much a straightforward way of at least attempting to ensure that disenfranchisement did not happen. (Of course Southern legislators would find ways to disenfranchise people in very short order. See also: poll tax, Voter ID laws)
The world has changed dramatically since then, and issues of citizenship have shifted focus from former slaves to that of actual immigrants, in this case those crossing from the Southern Border. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 3.8 million undocumented immigrants have at least one child who is a citizen. Even assuming that this is a nefarious plot to, um, lead a better life, it actually makes sense why people would try to do this. As demonstrated by the chart below, gaining American citizenship is a Sisyphean process which takes decades.
So it stands to reason that a person in the country, even on a legal work visa, wouldn’t put their lives on hold. They would start a family, and established legal expedient would grant that child citizenship.
But according the the majority of the GOP field, that right of birthright citizenship must go. Indeed, six of the contenders for the nomination have outright called for the repeal of birthright citizenship: Donald Trump, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Chris Christie. Some have been subtle enough to say that they only wish to amend the 14th amendment, but still others are simply calling for its repeal.
Again, I fail to see how repealing one of the most steady guarantors of individual rights in America against the powers of the state is something that a “small government” conservative would advocate for.
The Third Proposal: Mass Deportation
But they have to go. But they have to go.
This is the proposal that is now being made bluntly by the Republican frontrunner. Mass deportation. If you reject some form of amnesty, as well as the status quo, it is the only policy left.
Not to sound more extreme than I need to, but scouring the entire nation for a group of 11 million people that mostly share an ethnicity, inspecting their documentation to ensure they are not American citizens, and forcibly relocating them sounds hauntingly familiar. I would not like to be a person of color out for a jog in Phoenix and have forgotten my wallet at home that day.
But even assuming that this is a process that could be passed through our Federal system, it also relies a great deal on the compliance of state and local authorities. And it ignores the fact that many citizens would fell compelled to physically interfere with this process, hindering it to their greatest capability.
This would entail the singularly greatest exercise of government power in American history. Small government?
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive examination of the immigration issue. It is simply a reflection that the execution of policies relating to immigration as outlined by prominent Republican candidates for President runs entirely contrary to their supposed principles of maintaining a cost efficient government that does not interfere in the lives of private citizens. It is demagoguery at its worst.