Let's Fix This Country
immigration

Immigration Breakdown: Republican Right Calls a Halt

And it’s because Obama can’t be trusted

No sooner had the votes been counted in the 2012 election than immigration reform became a top priority. After doing nothing to fulfill a 2008 campaign pledge, after instead
deporting more undocumented immigrants than any president before him, Barack Obama owed reform to the Latino population, 71% of whom voted for him.

For that same reason, Republicans realized that they had better spearhead reform, because if they failed to attract the growing Hispanic voting bloc, the party’s gradual extinction was a possibility. Mitt Romney’s vow to repeal the DREAM Act, if enacted, and his encouraging “self-deportation” of illegals had been a potent insult to those Latinos here legitimately and able to vote, and their support dropped to 27% from the 40% won by George W Bush. Clearly, something had to be done.

on second thought

Fast forward to now. Speaker John Boehner announced in early February that something had turned to nothing. No action will be taken about immigration by the House for this entire year. The urgent need to resolve the issue that came to light in November 2012 is deemed to no longer matter politically and politics is all that matters. Newly emboldened by Obamacare, Republicans believe themselves less in need of the Hispanic vote. The multiple failures and faults of the healthcare law offer so rich a vein to tap in election campaigning that there is growing confidence by the GOP that they can even gain control of the Senate.

Boehner reversed field from just a week earlier when he said, "This problem's been around for at least the last 15 years so I think it's time to deal with it". After weeks of debate, House Republicans had come up with a one-page draft that spelled out the terms for legislation that the Speaker viewed as “a fair, principled way for us to solve this issue”.

What caused the back flip? An onslaught from the rightmost elements of the Party — groups such as the Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, the Heritage Foundation — that view the proposed terms of reform as “amnesty” and from a practical standpoint find reform as too divisive an issue within their own ranks to broach in an election year. Cowed once again — think back to his caving in to the extreme elements of the Party over the government shutdown — Boehner sounded retreat.

obama’s fault

For public consumption the reason is that President Obama is to blame. Republicans contend that he cannot be trusted to enforce an immigration law — a meme adopted dutifully by every interviewed Republican and immediately amplified by Fox News (“New questions are being raised whether the president can be trusted…”). This, let’s remember, is speculation about how the President would treat an imaginary law that has not yet been written and that won’t be written because it cannot possibly pass the House for reasons just cited.

As evidence that Obama would not enforce, Republicans point to how the President has freely manipulated the healthcare law. He first issued over 1,100 waivers to self-insured businesses and groups plus 34 unions to allow them to temporarily retain their annual cap on payouts for ill employees. (Boehner on the floor of the House said “the president has given his friends in the labor unions some 1,100 waivers to this law"). Several relaxations of deadlines would follow, but the big re-working of the law was Obama's postponing for a year the requirement that all companies with over 50 employees pay for their employees' health insurance.

We could point out that all of the freewheeling adjustments the president has made have been to iron out problems to make the law work. We could say that the Republican allegation is irrational for being the opposite: that their distrust assumes Obama would tamper with an immigration law to make it not work. Just three months ago, reported The Wall Street Journal the president...

“brainstormed at the White House… with religious leaders over how to persuade House Republicans to move on the issue…met with business executives to urge them to speak out for action…is planning other immigration events on the road, with a mix of national and local outreach, both behind the scenes and publicly”.

...and just two weeks ago in the State of the Union address said "let's get immigration done this year, let's get it done. It's time". Obama unfortunately helped the Republican farce look like fact when just four days later he tampered with the healthcare law yet again, postponing for a second year the employer mandate for smaller American businesses and reducing the requirement for large corporations.

term sheet

The draft proposal that drew the ire of conservative groups would offer legal status to undocumented immigrants — but not citizenship. They must admit that they entered the U.S. illegally, must pay fines and taxes, pass a criminal background check, and demonstrate a level of proficiency in English. The children they brought in would be eligible to apply for citizenship.

But the far right in Congress such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz call this “amnesty”, a reductio ad bumper-sticker that belies the lengthy and demanding process of applying for legal status and a corruption of the word. Amnesty, the dictionary tells us, simply means a summary pardon for past offenses.

If legal status is unacceptable to the Tea Party and other rightist elements, then what? If forced to admit, would they say their plan is enforcement of E-Verify to block the undocumented from employment, leading to Romney's self-deportation? Do they envision a long march of 11 million back across the border?

Moreover, according to the draft proposal, the pathway to legal status would be blocked until the federal government can prove that the Mexican border is sealed off. That is the precondition demanded by Republicans, a requirement that causes many in favor of reform to aim their distrust at Republican intentions to enforce the law. Will they claim that the 1,900 mile border is never quite sealed even when influx is reduced to a trickle? Will this be a case of repeatedly advancing half the distance to the goal, meaning that the government never quite gets there, insuring that the so-called “amnesty” sequence never begins?

let it fester

The reason that the problem of illegal immigrants has grown huge — some 11 million estimated to be in the U.S. — is largely because of the failure of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to face the issue year after year. The last immigration bill dates to the Reagan administration, 28 years ago, when some three million gained legal status after passage of a law with conditions much like the present proposal. Which makes the point that what Republicans did then they refuse to do now.

The result of this irresponsible inattention has allowed families to come here, find jobs, have children and generally settle into communities all over the national map. For those here a long time, a legal problem has metamorphosed into a moral transgression by those who indicate a preference to deport. That is lost on senators such as Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, who says “Republicans must end the lawlessness, not surrender to it”. What is literally law-less is the lack of a law that deals with the matter. Yet there is one; it was passed by the Senate last June. The imperious Mr. Boehner months ago huffily said that the House wouldn’t even consider the Senate version. The House would write its worn. And now — for political reasons that pay no heed to societal needs — he declares that another year will go by with Congress having done nothing.

This impasse has led New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer to call the Republican bluff, proposing that the House overcome its distrust of Obama by passing a bill set to take effect only after the president’s term ends. That, of course, was dismissed out of hand by Mr. Boehner. So others are now contemplating invoking the rarely used "discharge petition" whereby a bill can be forced to the floor, overriding the Speaker's dictates.

Oh, and by the way, the Speaker has unilaterally declared that nothing will be done by his branch of the legislature about tax reform, either. Another year of doing nothing to fix the nation's problems.

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