Immigration reform grinds to a crawl

Immigration reform is not going to be a quick or easy process in the House. Whatever House leaders’ personal views, this is probably the most difficult issue they have faced in terms of garnering consensus.

U.S. Capitol

(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Following a caucus immigration meeting on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner and others in the GOP leadership released a statement, which read:

Today House Republicans affirmed that, rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system.  The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy.  But they don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they’re alarmed by the president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem.  The president has also demonstrated he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.

It reads like a hostage statement — formulaic and designed to prevent a firestorm. This is plainly a House leadership with very little running room. Behind closed doors Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reportedly appealed to House Republicans to act. After all, most have them have described the illegal immigration problem in dire terms so passivity now seems disingenuous.

In fact, it isn’t even clear that the series of bills Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has talked about will make it through committee or to the floor. Some staunch conservatives including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) insist the House will pass comprehensive reform, but a significant bloc of House Republicans see no benefit in fixing the broken immigration system (even if they promised their constituents they’d do something about it) and believe the president will choose to implement only the parts of the bill he likes (as he has done with health-care reform). The latter problem can be solved by implementing the bill the day he leaves office, but I suspect that issue is merely a placeholder for the “I don’t want to do anything” crowd.

We are, in short, back to square one. That means House Republicans have to be convinced to do anything. And then they have to be convinced to pass one or more (likely a series of three to five) bills that will address major areas like E-verify, H1-B visas and border control. Even raising knottier issues like a pathway to citizenship or visas for low-skilled workers would be premature.

That is how things stand now. But it remains to be seen whether House members will be convinced of the necessity of moving forward on their own promises (as they did on a balanced budget, for example) or whether they can get away with standing still. Many of those most irate about the Gang of Eight have spent years decrying the lack of a conservative solution. Now they have their chance, but they may well decide to pontificate rather than legislate.

The president’s intention to run around the country campaigning on immigration is a bad sign indeed. If he wants a bill rather than an issue to run on, he’d pipe down like he did during the Gang of Eight debate in the Senate. That he is going on the road suggests he at least thinks the House will do nothing on immigration and he’ll have a golden opportunity to blame Republicans. (To the extent he’d choose to blame House Republicans, he’d have a point.)

The ball is now in the House. Mr. Goodlatte, what say you?

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