I don’t want to be Pollyannish. Immigration reform is still a heavy lift and getting a single (or multiple) bill on which the House and Senate can agree is the legislative equivalent of pulling an inside straight.
Opposition in the House remains fierce. Pro-immigration Republicans, many of whom are hawks, see this as a variation on the far right’s embrace of anti-NSA scarce-mongering. President Obama and George W. Bush are for it, so they must be against it. In the immigration context, as with the NSA, they use the excuse that they can’t trust Obama as the reason for doing nothing. And finally, being against immigration reform (just like the NSA surveillance) puts them in good stead with far right media types who are agitating against it.
And yet . . . immigration reform muddles along. A few factors explain why.
The first is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) who is adept at acknowledging members’ anger and concerns (yes, we really can’t trust Obama) while channeling their conservative impulses into legislation that can pass. Joel Pollak (who has been an immigration reform critic) writes, “What Ryan is doing on immigration reform is what he has done on other issues: namely, to use his policy skills to attempt to create a policy alternative that attempts to balance conservative principles with what is politically feasible.”
Whether accurate or not, that requires pointed criticism of the Gang of Eight bill. House conservatives will only support something they are convinced does more and is less amenable to Obama administration fiddling (e.g. not really building the fence). That is the route Ryan is taking.
Another factor often overlooked is the donor community. As I have noted before, there is plenty of money and political heft in favor of immigration reform. This support includes agriculture, high tech business, a segment of evangelicals and a large group with no particular industry connection but who see the gradual decline of the GOP’s standing and understand it can’t be the party that appeals only to whites.
The New York Times spotted the latest manifestation of this phenomenon:
More than 100 Republican donors — many of them prominent names in their party’s establishment — sent a letter to Republican members of Congress on Tuesday urging them to support an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. . . .
“Immigrants are often entrepreneurial, family-minded and guided by faith,” the letter says. “These are Republican values. Immigrants play key roles at every level of the American economy. From high-skill workers to seasonal laborers, from big-city neighborhoods to small-town main streets, immigrants help drive our economic growth. These are Republican issues. Republicans ought to be welcoming immigrants and be seen as doing so.”
In short, these people are sick of spending their money on candidates who lose, getting fewer and fewer non-white voters (as a percentage of the electorate) with each passing year.
It remains to be seen however whether donors will fund alternative candidates to anti-immigration incumbents or withhold donations from anti-immigrant types.
And finally, House conservatives need to accomplish something. They’ve hyped the issue but delivered nothing. Frankly, some are vulnerable from the right since they haven’t improved border security or enacted an E-verify system. And if they lack a single significant accomplishment (as the president does) they be hard pressed to make the case as to why they deserve to keep the majority.
Odds are still against them, but pro-immigration reformers are not entirely discouraged. We’ll find out this fall if that is warranted or wishful thinking.