There’s a lot of chatter today about the statement Rand Paul delivered in an interview expressing his support for the House GOP bill to end Obama’s program to defer the deportation of illegal immigrants brought here as children. Thus far over half a million people have been approved for the program. Rand Paul would remove those protections.
As Steve Benen notes, this is striking given that Paul has repeatedly pushed the GOP to reach beyond its “homogenous base” and recast itself as more welcoming to minorities. Alex Roarty goes further and explains how this is the latest example of the House GOP — which best represents the preoccupations of that homogenous base — pulling the party to the right on immigration, imperiling the party’s chances of repairing relations with Latinos before 2016.
I think this is going to get a whole lot worse. The reason for this can be found in the true nature of the underlying policy dispute between the two parties here — an important policy difference — which often gets lost in the rhetoric.
What does it mean for Rand Paul — or any other Republican — to call for an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? By itself, all it seems to mean is that those who currently enjoy deferred action status — which comes with the right to work and other trappings — should no longer enjoy it. However, many Republicans have not just called for an end to DACA. They have also criticized the President more generally for deprioritizing the deportation of low level offenders from the interior — minors and people with jobs, families, and ties to the community, DREAMers included — and instead focusing on the removal of serious criminal offenders and recent border crossers.
Many Republicans oppose those enforcement priorities. That means they want more resources re-focused back on the removal of longtime residents from the interior — DREAMers included. Taken together with calls for an end to DACA, that overall GOP position amounts to the functional equivalent of calling for deportation of the DREAMers and unspecified numbers of other people from the interior who are now being deprioritized.
In other words, underlying the debate over DACA is a more fundamental policy dispute. While Obama has deprioritized the removals of longtime residents from the interior, many Republicans disagree with that. They think we should be removing more of those people. They believe it’s better policy for these longtime residents to fear removal, either as a matter of basic fairness (they originally broke the law) or because, as one foe of immigration reform put it with admirable candor: “Without the threat of deportation, no one will feel they have to leave.”
Some Republicans who believe this have tended to obscure their position by hiding it behind generalized calls for Obama to “enforce the law.” But this is inescapably the deeper policy dispute we face.
So what about Rand Paul? Does he merely favor ending DACA, or does he support deportation of the DREAMers? I asked Paul spokesman Brian Darling if Paul thinks it is wrong of Obama to deprioritize their deportation. His answer:
“Senator Paul‘s statement speaks for itself.”
Republicans don’t want to answer this question, because it’s far easier to keep the focus only on the propriety of Obama’s executive action, without straying on to the politically perilous turf of calling for more deportations from the interior.
But Republicans won’t be able to duck that question forever. At some point this debate will be about the actual difference over enforcement priorities that’s at issue here — whether we should or shouldn’t deprioritize the removal of low level offenders with longtime ties to communities, to better focus on criminal offenders and border crossers. That debate may happen if Obama rolls out an expansion of DACA in mid-September, forcing such a broader discussion. Or it may happen in the context of the 2016 presidential race, when the focus turns to what to do about the expanded numbers of people protected from removal. And that’s a much harder debate for Republicans to win than the narrow one they prefer — the one over Obummer Lawlessness.