NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday about the real guards on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“You don’t cross that border unless you have permission of the drug cartel,” he warned during a “Point/Counterpoint” debate.
CPAC often is billed as an opportunity for conservatives to promote their principles. But when it comes to immigration, the movement still is at odds with itself, and the deep divisions appeared during the debate.
Gohmert said every mile is controlled by some kind of drug cartel, none of whom fear the U.S. Border Patrol.
He said migrants coming into the United States had paid drug cartels to get through, and it would be more compassionate for the U.S. to stop illegal border crossings than continue enabling dangerous journeys for migrants.
And in his characteristically folksy style, he argued any “comprehensive” immigration bill is simply an opportunity for legislators to force through laws they would not be able to approve one at a time.
“You want to do it right. You don’t have comprehensive bills. You have bills that are short enough for everybody to read,” he said.
Gohmert also made a case for fairness by saying those who enter the country should only be allowed to enter if they wait in line with everyone else. He characterized the issue as focusing on the rule of law.
He noted the irony of immigrants coming to the United States because they are fleeing corrupt nations where the rule of law doesn’t apply while simultaneously demanding America cease enforcing its immigration laws.
“Where they come from, they don’t follow the rule of law; they don’t apply it across the board,” he said. “And so think about it – they want to come to this country and then say, ‘Now that we’re here, we want you to be like the corrupt country we came from, we want you to ignore your laws.’ That would make us like the country they came from! We can’t do that! We owe this country more than that.”
The Texas congressman mocked conservatives who believe illegal immigrants can be legalized without being given the right to vote. He said such a position is untenable because liberals will easily be able to say it’s equivalent to the time when slave owners claimed blacks were only three-fifths of a person.
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“People cannot come in and get citizenship until they understand what it takes to maintain the greatest country, the greatest government in the history of the world!” he said.
Finally, he described immigration as an existential crisis for the country.
“Folks, we’re in trouble,” he said. “We have got to get this right or people will rise up in the future and they won’t call us blessed, they will curse our names. We’ve got to get this right. We’ve got to stand for the rule of law. We’ve got to stand up and say, ‘We’re not giving special privileges to anybody!'”
Speaking on behalf of immigration was Kate Bryan, a GOP strategist from Washington, D.C.
She was billed as a spokeswoman for the “Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.”
Bryan seemed to allude to GOP presidential race front-runner Donald Trump without actually naming him, speaking of a man who “captivated” television audiences, addressed immigration in a “powerful way,” and who is known for his “great hair.”
Bryan then revealed with a smile she was talking about Ronald Reagan.
Bryan tried to triangulate between the alternatives of “Obama’s amnesty” and “self-deportation” with an approach she claims Reagan would have supported. While admitting parts of the southern border are “completely lawless,” Bryan echoed progressive rhetoric about 11 million illegal immigrants “living in the shadows.”
She called for double-layer fencing along with “manpower and technology” to stop illegal entry, as well as imposing mandatory E-Verify to ensure no illegal immigrants are employed.
Bryan said America still needs foreign workers, “not just to do the jobs Americans don’t want, but to do the jobs that create other good-paying jobs for Americans.”
She denied immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans and called for legalizing the flow of foreign workers. She also rejected the idea allowing certain immigrants to be legalized after following certain rules constitutes “amnesty.”
“The story of immigration is America’s story,” she claimed. “Anyone from any corner of the world can become an American.”
Bryan also blasted those who want to limit immigration, saying anyone who doubted America could assimilate immigrants from anywhere in the world doubts America itself.
“America is not a nation of nativists; we are a nation of patriots,” she argued. “Nativism is not a part of the conservative philosophy nor is it a part of America’s founding. But patriotism is … The time for us to lead on immigration is now.”
Moderator Becky Norton Dunlop summarized points of agreement, including the consensus around border security. However, she also recalled how Ronald Reagan was taken advantage of by then-Speaker of the House Democrat Tip O’Neill when he signed an immigration amnesty bill in 1986.
While amnesty for illegal aliens became a reality, Dunlop said, the promised enforcement mechanisms never kicked in. Dunlop suggested it was because of this experience Reagan was fond of saying, “Trust but verify.”