Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is no newcomer to immigration reform. He tried years ago to craft a solution in the House with colleague Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is now in the Senate. This week he, as with Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), is showing he wants to be part of the solution to our broken and inadequate immigration system.

In Chicago, Ryan was making the case for immigration reform while not endorsing the “Gang of Eight” bill per se. It is noteworthy how much of his argument meshes with the concerns of those who have decried the state of our border:

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) announced his opposition to the Gang of Eight plan Tuesday. In a written statement, he declared:

We must have a clear definition of what metrics must be reached in order for the border to be secure. I am not satisfied with answers offered at today’s hearing, as it remains unclear how the provisions in this bill will help achieve a secure border.
As it stands, the border security component – which numbers only 58 pages of the 844-page bill – largely cedes authority to the Department of Homeland Security to determine when and how the border would be secured. However, today’s hearing revealed that the last clear metric for border security – ‘operational control’ – reflected that in 2010, DHS had secured 873 miles of the more than 2,000 mile border. When that metric did not demonstrate success, DHS decided to simply abandon the metric. In order for a metric to be real, it must be meaningful. Currently, there are no objective metrics in place to ensure any triggers in this bill will be meaningful, all while the pathway to citizenship component remains contingent on this undefined border security.”

As with so many opponents of the Gang of Eight plan, you wonder whether Cruz would be happy with any immigration plan. He identified a rather specific complaint with the bill but declined to provide a “fix.” Would any border security plan be good enough?

In fact the Gang of Eight plan has specific, objective metrics, including border fencing, implementing an E-verify system and developing a visa-exit system: the very items immigration hard-liners like former senator Jim DeMint have advocated for years.

As for the “subjective” nature of the metrics, Sean Rushton, Cruz’s communications director, points to a Government Accountability Office report that notes border agents have discretion whether to apprehend those attempting to cross. However, with substantial increase in funding, border security technology and staffing, this problem should be greatly reduced by increased apprehensions and better documentation. One would imagine that some kind of bad-faith conspiracy by border control agents would be needed to jigger the numbers. Rushton was quick to disclaim any such accusation: “We have the greatest respect for Border Patrol Agents, because we realize their job is incredibly difficult. With the conditions and stress they work under, it is wrong to force them to become statisticians instead of doing their real job.” But with the influx of resources it’s hard to imagine this still would be an issue.

Rushton then emphasized not the subjective nature of the metrics but rather the extent: “So the question is not whether we use Effectiveness Rate but whether we solely use the Effectiveness Rate and only in high-risk sectors to trigger amnesty for illegal immigrants.” The high-risk sectors are, of course, where the lion share of the crossings occur, so it makes very little sense to monitor areas with very little traffic. Moreover, the bill defines high-risk sectors as those where more than 30,000 people were apprehended “during the most recent fiscal year.” In other words, if the number of border crossings pick up to such an extent in a new area (entirely unlikely, given the logistics of the border and the extent to which a high shift in migration would have to occur), that sector may be deemed a high-risk area. The insistence on going to spots where there is no border-crossing problem is a bit like insisting the police monitor non-crime areas; it’s a waste of resources and would only allow law enforcement to declare “victory” by verifying that a problem still doesn’t exist in those low-risk areas.

It is hard to imagine the alleged problems with the bill are so significant that they couldn’t be remedied easily. Ironically, exclusionists in the past have wanted to spend untold amounts on border fencing and other security measures but without any verification that these steps work. It seems that the only bill satisfactory to these anti-immigration types would be one in which gobs of money is spent, no metrics are taken and no one gets naturalized. Many will find that illogical and, in any event, politically undoable.

Cruz is one of a few anti-immigration reform advocates with a high profile and following among the GOP base so he may simply not have the nerve to rile up his supporters. That would be a shame. He’s a very smart man, and he could make a meaningful contribution to coming up with a viable fix to our immigration problems. Otherwise, all he is doing is rooting for the disastrous status quo. Moreover, he’s ceding the mantle of leadership and reform to Ryan, Rubio and Paul, which in the long run isn’t going to boost Cruz’s standing as a national figure.