What an odd argument.
President Reagan would insist that all illegal immigrants return to their native countries and get in line to be legally admitted into the country if faced with the issue today, according to Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.).
“President Reagan would insist that those who are here illegally must repent and atone for their illegal conduct by returning to their country of origin and getting in line with everyone else,” Brooks said on the House floor.
Let’s back up and look at the historical record. In 1986, then-President Reagan signed a bipartisan immigration reform package that extended amnesty to any immigrant who entered the country illegally before 1982. This was, of course, before Republicans were told to perceive “amnesty” as the moral equivalent of a crime against humanity.
And by all accounts, Reagan supported the policy and its goals.
Reagan “knew that it was not right for people to be abused,” [former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson] says. “Anybody who’s here illegally is going to be abused in some way, either financially [or] physically. They have no rights.”
Peter Robinson, a former Reagan speechwriter, agrees. “It was in Ronald Reagan’s bones – it was part of his understanding of America – that the country was fundamentally open to those who wanted to join us here.”
Reagan said as much himself in a televised debate with Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale in 1984. “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” he said.
But now Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) thinks he knows better. I’m not sure why anyone would believe him.
In general, the entire line of argument – “[Historical Figure] would agree with me if he/she were alive today” – is pretty weak and unpersuasive, but Brooks’ efforts seem especially silly.
The Alabama congressman is effectively arguing that Reagan would disagree with Reagan if only he saw the immigration debate the way Mo Brooks does, 27 years later.
Indeed, Brooks isn’t just arguing that Reagan was wrong; he’s also arguing that Reagan was so wrong, he’d oppose bipartisan reform efforts like the Gang of Eight proposal.
There’s just no point to these kinds of arguments. If far-right lawmakers want to reject immigration reform, fine. If they want to promote a punitive and unrealistic alternative, fine. But to argue that their ostensible hero would take their side decades after he did the opposite of what they want? Even by House Republican standards, it’s hard to take someone who pushes this line seriously.