Mishandling The Immigration Reform Debate: A Roundup
August 1, 2013 by Ben Bullard
In the early going, the omnibus immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in June looked as though it would be killed off by a GOP-led House effort at toning down the ambition; making a series of smaller, piecemeal changes; and setting aside the real elephant in the room — amnesty — for a separate final battle.
In other words, it appeared as though the GOP might actually have something meaningful to offer on immigration reform.
Fast forward to August, when the idealism has mostly faded.
In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is poised to stall deliberation on immigration reform until after the August recess — mainly in an attempt to avoid angry constituent confrontations while on break. The tactical delay also keeps House GOP leaders from taking a stand, which effectively gives their Democratic adversaries no GOP policies to criticize. From Wednesday’s National Journal:
But far from a failure of leadership, top House Republicans are casting the inaction as a tactical play designed to boost reform’s chances.
Keeping immigration on the back-burner helps avoid a recess filled with angry town-hall meetings reminiscent of the heated August 2009 protests where the backlash against health care reform coalesced. Doing nothing also starves Democrats of a target, Republicans argue.
… Boehner, Cantor, and McCarthy have privately discussed holding off on immigration until October. (September has only nine legislative days that will be jammed with fiscal negotiations as House Republicans and Senate Democrats scramble to fund the government after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.) The August break gives Republicans time to chart a course on immigration ahead of a packed fall schedule that leaves little time for strategizing.
On the Senate side, we have Senator John “Gang of Eight” McCain (R-Ariz.) engaged in back-room machinations to defang the border security apparatus. The sine qua non border security provision that helped the Senate bill garner enough crossover Republican votes won’t survive the House-Senate “compromise” bill that comes up in the fall. From POLITICO on Tuesday:
During an immigration forum hosted by the AFL-CIO Tuesday, McCain — a key Senate Gang of Eight negotiator — said while a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented immigrants is a “fundamental element” of the bill, the “rest of it could be adjusted.” He singled out the border security parts as an example.
“We don’t need 20,000 additional border patrol agents,” McCain said Tuesday. “But what we do need is use of technology that has been developed where we can survey the border more effectively.”
The border-security provisions in the Gang of Eight bill, written by Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, would set aside more than $46 billion to double the number of border patrol agents along the southwestern U.S. boundary, add new surveillance technology and to complete the 700-mile border fence.
Corker and Hoeven drafted their amendment in the final days of the Senate immigration debate, and it was critical to luring several wavering Republican and Democratic senators on board with the overall bill.
“I voted for it so friends of mine would be comfortable that we are securing the border,” McCain said Tuesday. “But the real securing of the border is with technology, as opposed to individuals.”
Read into that what you will.
And, hanging like a Sword of Damocles over both chambers is the GOP’s donor class, whose money is on amnesty. Dozens of top donors and legacy officials from the George W. Bush era are pushing Congressional Republicans to grant amnesty wholesale. The Washington Times revealed Tuesday that donors see amnesty as a gateway to including “potential Republican voters” — a tactic borrowed straight from President Barack Obama’s own political playbook.
Nearly a hundred top Republican donors and Bush administration officials sent a letter to the House GOP on Tuesday urging lawmakers to pass a bill that legalizes illegal immigrants, arguing that the current system is already allowing them to stay and so it makes sense to register them and bring them into the system.
The donors, led by former Bush administration Cabinet officials Carlos Gutierrez and Spencer Abraham, also said that immigrants are potential Republican voters who can be won over — if the party can be seen as welcoming to immigrants.
“Doing nothing is de facto amnesty. We need to take control of whom we let in our country and we need to make sure everybody plays by the same rules,” the donors said in their letter.
In the midst of it all came a separate story in The Washington Times Wednesday that the Department of Homeland Security (how did we live without it before 2001?) can’t find more than 1 million immigrants who’ve overstayed their visas in the United States. One of those turned out to be the crazy homeless lady from China who was caught this week defacing Washington, D.C. landmarks with green paint. Clearly, our immigration enforcement system is already plenty airtight; so there’s no getting the cart before the horse by granting amnesty now to 11 million more people. Clearly.
The Homeland Security Department has lost track of more than 1 million people who it knows arrived in the U.S. but who it cannot prove left the country, according to an audit Tuesday that also found the department probably won’t meet its own goals for deploying an entry-exit system.
The findings were revealed as Congress debates an immigration bill, and the Government Accountability Office’s report could throw up another hurdle because lawmakers in the House and Senate have said that any final deal must include a workable system to track entries and exits and cut down on so-called visa overstays.
The government does track arrivals, but is years overdue in setting up a system to track departures — a goal set in a 1996 immigration law and reaffirmed in 2004, but which has eluded Republican and Democratic administrations.
“DHS has not yet fulfilled the 2004 statutory requirement to implement a biometric exit capability, but has planning efforts under way to report to Congress in time for the fiscal year 2016 budget cycle on the costs and benefits of such a capability at airports and seaports,” GAO investigators wrote.