Conventional wisdom has it that the border calamity has doomed immigration reform. There is, however, a potential silver lining to the crisis.
On “Face the Nation,” Bob Schieffer had this exchange with pro-reform Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.):
SCHIEFFER: But the Congress won’t do anything. The Congress has said they’re not going to do anything about this.
I would just like to ask both of you, how do you feel about being members of a body that won’t act, and a party, on a crisis like this?
MCCAIN: We will just continue the fight. We will continue the effort, respectful effort, to convince our colleagues in the House that we need to move forward on this issue. But it doesn’t help when the president says that he’s going to he — has a pen and he has a phone. But we will continue to make that effort on the grounds of security of our border, as well as the fact that you cannot deport 11 million people. We need to address the issue.
GRAHAM: Bob, there is a change in our party.
I don’t see how you could effectively win the presidency in 2016 if you adopt self-deportation as the Republican view toward immigration. Ted Cruz embraces legalization without a path to citizenship. Things are changing on our side. It makes it really hard to deal with a president who at every turn take a law he doesn’t like and unilaterally changes it, from the IRS to Obamacare.
It has a cumulative effect. So, there are people in the Republican Party who get it. But the president is making it very hard for us, those who do get it, to work with him, because he’s unilaterally changed every law he doesn’t like. Now he’s putting immigration on the list.
Until now, there has been an incentive for all sides to act in counterproductive ways. GOP hardliners thought they could do nothing on reform and please their base. The president imagined he could grandstand and threaten unilateral action. And too many on the reform side did not take seriously the very real concern about border security preceding legalization. Now one thing is clear: Congress and the president can no longer do nothing. There is a genuine security and humanitarian crisis that is only going to be solved by legislation and honest enforcement of the law. Moreover, having been rebuked at the Supreme Court, the president does not have much support to keep acting unilaterally simply because Congress is stubborn. (The Post editorial board observed that “the fact that Congress has chosen inaction, no matter how irresponsibly, does not grant plenipotentiary powers to the executive; Mr. Obama cannot rule by fiat. If, as White House aides have suggested, Mr. Obama elects to grant more mass reprieves from deportation, he does so at the risk that Congress and the courts may reverse his moves.”) Obama’s own irresponsible rhetoric has no doubt encouraged many of those now flocking to the border.
The solution is not complicated: Congress funds additional border enforcement (both internal controls and at the border); the president fully implements the newly funded enforcement mechanisms. The legislation specifically bars the president, absent congressional action, from reducing enforcement and/or granting limited protection from deportation for any group of immigrants. Relatively noncontroversial issues such as an increase in H-1B visas, visa extensions for foreign students graduating with advanced degrees, E-Verify and a visa overstay program can be implemented. And then, if all this is completed, a path for legalization to commence in January, 2017, can begin, provided those here for a significant period of time pay taxes, a fine and demonstrate English competency. Such people would not be eligible for a range of government benefits for a considerable period of time. Is it ideal? No. Will extreme anti-immigrant types on the right still pine for a police state in which 11 million people are separated from families and dragged from their homes to be deported? Probably. And, yes, this president is no longer trustworthy when it comes to implementing duly passed laws, but neither is there logic to refusing to begin a legalization process after he is gone.
Perhaps with a crisis bubbling over the border, all sides can figure a way to resolve the stalemate. The president cannot petulantly declare he’ll do things his way. The GOP House can’t bury its head in the sand, acting as if ignoring the crisis is a responsible “law-and-order” position. And all sides need to be serious about the requirement to adequately enforce the border so as not to induce new immigrants to try to come here illegally. Then again, everyone can continue with the political posturing until a humanitarian and/or security crisis turns into a full-blown disaster — which, given the state of the debate on this issue, is entirely possible.