Anti-immigration reformers are prematurely — and incorrectly, in my view — celebrating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comment yesterday that immigration is “irresolvable” this year. This was not a statement of preference or even an effort to stop progress in the House.
A McConnell spokesman told Right Turn, “He was merely summarizing the challenge. Senate Dems insist on a comprehensive, all-or-nothing approach. House wants to take a smarter approach.” If anything, he is giving House Republicans a thumb’s up for a step-by-step approach.
House immigration proponents seem not to have taken offense at McConnell’s remarks – or adopted the interpretation of reform opponents. A senior House aide told me, “I don’t think that Sen. McConnell’s comments change the dynamics in the House. Democrats like Senator Schumer and President Obama have both indicated recently that a Senate-like comprehensive immigration bill was not necessary and they would be open to considering a step by step approach.” He also emphasized how the president’s predilection for executive orders makes immigration reform agnostics nervous. “The question is whether House Republicans have sufficient trust in the President and his administration to enforce the laws and actually secure the border,” he said.
This should not minimize the difficulty of even getting something out of the House. A majority of the conference very well may be convinced a step-by-step approach of the type the speaker laid out is good policy. But there are a segment of lawmakers who simply believe it would be better to proceed next year, thereby keeping the focus on Obamacare and keeping the party united.
To paraphrase the joke, they are all right. However, all seem to be focusing on passage of a bill this year. That, I would argue, isn’t the immediate issue any more than passage through both bodies of an Obamacare repeal is possible. What is helpful to the GOP and a good policy objective is to at least pass something through the House; if the GOP takes the Senate then that becomes the model for immigration reform. At any rate it will present an alternative vision, just as an Obamacare alternative would, for voters in 2014.
A Q&A on immigration reform from the speaker’s office highlights this:
Isn’t your approach “amnesty”?
No. Just the opposite is true. Right now, there are few, if any, consequences for living here illegally. What we have now is amnesty. Using tough standards, the House’s approach would prohibit a special path to citizenship for those living here outside the law. Before anything else, these individuals would have to admit they broke the law. In addition, they would have to:
· Pass rigorous background checks;
· Pay significant fines;
· Pay back taxes;
· Develop proficiency in English and American civics; and
· Be able to support themselves and their families without access to public benefits.
None of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers on border security and other measures have been met.
The Senate bill, on the other hand, starts registering illegal immigrants virtually immediately after passage, does not require them to admit they broke any laws, only prohibits access to public benefits during a probationary period. It also excludes only a small portion of the gang member population from its legalization program while allowing for a broad waiver to apply to those with past convictions for gang-related crimes. The House would take a much more straightforward approach by making criminal aliens, sex offenders, gang members, and those who cannot meet the other rigorous requirements ineligible for legalization.
Most Republicans with the exception of the most committed anti-immigration advocates would likely agree with that. Moreover, it acknowledges the very real desire of many people here illegally not to become full citizens but at least to avoid deportation. Republicans can thereby dispel the myth that they are pro-deportation (or self-deportation, as Mitt Romney horribly put it.)
In sum, House reformers should push on, not with a plan that might at this stage get Senate approval (“irresolvable” might be correct in an election year) but with an eye toward smart policy and laying the groundwork for the election and what will follow.