Right-wing primary voters booted Eric Cantor over signs he might back "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, it is said. If so, the partisans are once again taking a position totally opposed to what they claim to want. Legalizing the status of most undocumented foreigners is the condition for closing the door on future illegal immigration. There is no other politically passable road to get there.
One may err in assuming that the hard right actually desires to solve the problem, punishing others being the more satisfying activity. The targets would include both Republicans not dancing to the right's dissonant tune and brown people in general.
Thing is, illegal immigrants are in this country because they can hold jobs here. And they can hold the jobs because American immigration laws were made to not work.
Thus, the tea party brethren are correct in arguing that past immigration bills offered amnesty for millions without stopping the illegal flow. Also, another amnesty without enforcement would only encourage millions more to enter the United States without proper documents.
Unfortunately, the right wing hasn't noticed — or doesn't want to concede — that the bipartisan immigration reform approved by the Senate is different. It fixes the enforcement part.
The plan would require biometric identification (for example, a fingerprint or the iris of an eye) of all job applicants. That means a stolen or fake Social Security card would no longer pass as acceptable ID. Furthermore, all businesses would have to use E-Verify, an Internet-based system, to confirm the prospective hire's right to work in the United States.
Many on the right insist that President Obama cannot be trusted to enforce an improved immigration law. That is odd because Obama is the first president to take the current flawed law seriously — so seriously that a leading immigration advocate has condemned him as "deporter in chief."
Also note what happened when Obama — frustrated over inaction on reform and pressed by immigrant activists — did consider easing up on the deportations. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat pushing the changes, warned him not to. The reforms would not pass if the public thought enforcement might be subject to presidential whim.
One suspects that many right-wingers would rather see their teeth fall out and cars repossessed than make common cause with Obama — even on an issue with which they have common cause. Again, populist movements fueled by emotion often bypass achieving goals in favor of nurturing resentments. It's less work that way.
Speaking of politics, it is beyond weird that Idaho Republican Raul Labrador has put himself forward as the right's champion to replace Cantor as House majority leader. Labrador opposes amnesty; it is true. But he also backs an enormous new visa program that would admit up to 200,000 foreign workers to fill low-skilled jobs in motels, restaurants and the like.
He is something of a cheap-labor twofer: Create more competition for our lowest-paid service workers while keeping undocumented workers vulnerable and thus unable to demand higher wages.
A word about the concern over "rewarding lawbreakers." The right should drop it. The vast majority of illegal immigrants are good, hardworking people. And the laws they broke were laws that our business and political leaders held in contempt.
The proposed reforms would make clear to employers, future illegal entrants and politicians that our immigration laws are not to be winked at. It would be strange if Republicans willing to go forth were threatened by a political faction that claims to hate the status quo while doing everything in its power to perpetuate it. Strange, but not the first time.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)