Last week when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reiterated that the House would not agree to a comprehensive immigration bill and go to conference on the Senate version, liberal pro-immigration groups and pundits spun this — almost — gleefully as the end of immigration. Boehner had said much the same thing many times before. So why did the left in unison exclaim, “That’s it! We’re done!”? It was obvious to those who listened to the remarks, and his other comments indicating progress continued on immigration reform, that this was simply wrong.
Two things are at play here. First, the faux controversy over Boehner’s remarks came during the worst week of President Obama’s tenure. Call me cynical, but the Boehner flap had all the markings of the change-the-subject spin for which the White House and its supporters are famous. Second, the narrative that the GOP is obstructionist, irrational and unfit to govern is central to Democrats’ 2014 message and, to some extent, their identity. How many times have liberals asserted that the problem with Washington is conservatives? How many times have they asserted — and with much justification during the shutdown — that you can’t be anti-government and be in government? The worst news, I strongly suspect, would be that the House GOP in fact was going to come up with something.
So — wouldn’t you know? — along comes the man central to immigration reform in the House, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) who appeared on Al Hunt’s “Political Capital” on Bloomberg TV. Sorry, Dems, the House is going to get something done, according to Goodlatte:
I think that the process will have Democratic support as we move forward. This is a step-by-step approach. You’ve got to remember that the bill passed out of the Homeland Security Committee was bipartisan. The four that were passed out of Judiciary came right on the heels of the Senate passing their bill. And so the Democrats’ in the committee goal at that time was to force the House to take the Senate bill, so there were no votes for anything other than what the Senate bill contained. I think that attitude has changed. It’s an improvement. We continue to work on more bills. We want to address all three areas of immigration reform, enforcement first, legal immigration reform to help grow our economy, and finding the appropriate legal status for those who are not lawfully here. . .
I think it is unreasonable to think that we’re going to deport millions of people from the country. So having a legal status for them, where they can live here and work here and own a business here and pay their taxes here and travel to and from their home country, wherever else, would be a much better situation for our economy, for our country, than the current status of people not being accounted for.
As for the legalization part, he noticeably did not rule out citizenship: “What we are looking at is an appropriate legal status. Now, there are going to be, you know, back taxes and penalties and that kind of thing, but a legal status that doesn’t advance somebody ahead of people who have done immigration legally and lawfully for generations is more appropriate. And our step-by-step approach is aimed at getting at addressing all three of these areas. But we’re not there yet. So it’s hard to tell.”
I think it’s hard to get anything done this year simply because time is running out. However, one can imagine the following scenario over the next few months: The House passes bills corresponding to the issues Goodlatte’s put forth. On legalization, the House comes up with full-citizenship for a distinct class of DREAM Act immigrants brought here as children. For the rest, the House would require that applicants for citizenship to go through the exact same steps as regular green card holders (e.g. time, residency). Rather than a conference, there is an opportunity for some informal negotiations, horse-trading and the usual blustering from both sides. In the end it really doesn’t matter if the three components are in one bill or three, so long as they all pass.
Far-fetched? Maybe. But Democrats at some point, it seems increasingly likely, will be presented with the House version of immigration reform. They can claim it’s insufficient or unworkable, but what they won’t be able to claim is that Republicans blocked immigration reform. Republicans can present to voters a good faith effort that embodies the items Goodlatte outlined. No wonder liberals were so eager to pounce this week. A GOP immigration bill that has 80 percent of what they have demanded for years is awfully hard to paint as obstructionist.