The other day John Boehner made a heretical admission. By mocking House GOP colleagues for moaning about the difficulties inherent in tackling immigration reform, he revealed them to be the true obstacle to movement on the issue.
That level of candor could not be allowed to stand. Today Boehner apologized to them for going too far, reverting to the stance that the real culprit is that Obama can’t be trusted to enforce the law.
Yet in the process, Boehner once again accidentally revealed the truth: The real obstacle to movement on reform is that Republicans have yet to show an ability to accept any form of legal status for the 11 million under any circumstances. The unvarnished reality of the situation is that Republican rhetoric on this issue has boxed the party into a place that is entirely incompatible with getting to Yes on reform — despite Boehner’s professed desire to do so.
This is revealed in a story by Seung Min Kim, who talked to GOP Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana about Boehner’s meeting with Republicans today:
Rep. John Fleming said Boehner outlined several key points during the meeting: That House Republicans will not go to conference negotiations with a sweeping bill passed by the Senate last June; there is no “secret conspiracy” to do comprehensive immigration reform; President Barack Obama needs to prove to lawmakers that he will abide by existing laws; and the House may pass laws written in a way that Obama couldn’t “flout.”
Boehner, then, told Republicans today that if they do move forward with their own reform proposals, they can insert safeguards against Obama’s lawbreaking.
This happens to be the truth. If House Republicans were to pass some sort of package of reforms that include provisional legal status, along with various security triggers that would have to be met for reform to move forward, they would be increasing their oversight of the process. The policy details are complicated, but there are ways to structure such a package so that the Obama administration would have every incentive for meeting security triggers — failure to do so would derail reform entirely — which would leave less room for the president’s alleged serial lawbreaking.
“The Republicans’ central complaint is that the president is making enforcement decisions on his own,” says Marshall Fitz, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress. “They can limit the president’s power by establishing through legislation their own set of enforcement priorities. That opportunity is on the table now.”
But the crux of the matter is that even Republicans, such as Boehner, have admitted that the only route to reform will also require accepting legal status for the 11 million. So they are now in a box: They cannot exert more control over the enforcement process without abandoning their current de facto position, which is that the best policy response to the 11 million is maximum deportations. That’s because embracing reform would require Republicans accepting an end to most deportations.
The current GOP criticism of Obama, most recently reflected in a letter from Senate Republicans warning against unilateral action to ease deportations, is that not enough illegal immigrants living and working in the United States are getting removed from the interior, because Obama is deprioritizing the deportations of certain classes. As I’ve explained before, it’s true that removals from the interior of people with lives here have gone down, but that’s due to a shift in resources that has resulted in a rise in removals of those caught crossing the border:
Yet Republicans still criticize this as failure to enforce the law. Inescapably embedded in that position is implacable opposition to ending deportations — and a commitment to maximizing deportations of people with lives here. By definition, Republicans cannot embrace any species of legalization if that remains their position.
The logic is almost comically simple here, but this really is the situation: Either Republicans remain the party of mass deportation, or they abandon that position in favor of some form of legal status, packaged with security triggers, that they can accept. Those in the House GOP caucus who can only accept maximum deportations as their desired immigration policy, and cannot accept any form of legalization, are currently setting the GOP agenda on this issue. Either that will continue to be the case, or John Boehner will change it.