The Post reported this week, “President Obama has delayed a review of deportation policies until the end of summer in hopes that Congress will approve a legislative overhaul of immigration laws, administration officials said Tuesday. Obama instructed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to continue his review, but the results will not be announced before lawmakers take their summer recess in August, officials said. The White House is concerned that Republicans would balk if the administration takes unilateral action to stem the deportation of undocumented immigrants, ending any slim remaining hopes of a legislative compromise.”
Think about that: The president agrees to execute the laws that exist so Congress has time to decide whether it wants to change them. Only in the Obama administration would this be news or be considered some kind of concession on the president’s part. You understand why as an institutional matter so many lawmakers (Democrats in private, naturally) are exasperated with him.
But to be fair, the fear of Obama not executing the law has always been a lame excuse for not proceeding with immigration reform. What’s better – the current situation, where Obama unilaterally changes the laws by bits and pieces, or a new legislative structure that he will be obligated to abide by after signing? In any case, the whole law could go into effect in January 2017.
House Republicans involved in the issue say that Obama not moving unilaterally is a positive development for those who want to advance immigration reform. They think it is at least somewhat encouraging that the White House recognizes the importance of giving members of the House time and space to come up with a set of reforms to fix a broken immigration system.
The House, however, plainly has a political problem. The GOP doesn’t want a knock-down fight in an election year while things are going the party’s way. With each new scandal – the Veterans Affairs one being the latest – Republicans become more convinced that they can win just by running against the incompetent White House and the do-nothing Senate Democratic majority.
Still, there remains a group of Republicans who think immigration is worth pursuing on its merits. It’s pro-growth and it’s important to straighten out our legal immigration system and secure the border. The trouble will come in trying to come up with an approach that is seen as methodical and consistent with conservative principles.
One way would be for House and Senate Republicans to agree on a mini-reform package, leaving big issues for another day. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) has suggested lightening penalties on illegal immigrants if Democrats would agree to more H-1B visas:
Under current law, those that leave the U.S. after living here illegally for six months or more cannot return for three years. Those who lived here illegally for at least a year cannot return for ten years. That has served as an incentive for many illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. rather than return home and face years long bans. . . . He said in return for dropping the bars, Democrats should agree to boost legal immigration by granting green cards to foreigners who graduate from American universities with advanced degrees in the fields of science, engineering, math or technology.” (Even more interesting, he made the proposal at an event co-hosted by the Heritage Foundation, which vehemently opposed the Senate immigration reform bill. Perhaps the hiring of chief economist and immigration advocate Stephen Moore has already had a salutary effect.)
There are certainly many possible mini-deals. Take care of the DREAMers and put into effect an e-verify and visa over-stay tracking system, for example. There are large bipartisan majorities in favor of both, and the enforcement items will give voters and lawmakers confidence that we can enforce the law and ultimately bring down the number of people working here illegally. Another combination might be to allow foreign college grads studying in the United States with STEM degrees to stay in the country in exchange for some of the border security measures.
In the past, Democrats have refused to deal with non-comprehensive immigration reform because they feared that if Republicans got a few items they wanted, Democrats would never get to legalization. But the dynamic has changed. The Democrats are desperate for a deal before they lose the Senate majority. They might just go for it. And if not, Republicans won’t have lost anything. To the contrary, they’d have shown themselves to be concerned about the issue and not hostile to immigrants. It’s not much, but it is something and might improve the environment for larger reform in the future.