Republicans are expected to present by month’s end a set of principles on immigration to counter the comprehensive immigration reform bill that Senate Democrats passed last June. And according to media reports, boosting border security and interior enforcement are still priorities on the House GOP’s list. The most contentious aspect of the immigration overhaul -- what to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country -- could be resolved, from the Republicans’ perspective, with “earned legal status,” as opposed to the "pathway to citizenship" Democrats and immigration reform advocates desire.
President Barack Obama is still holding onto hope that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will deliver on the issue this year, to score political points for a Republican Party considered out of touch on immigration, despite some saying reform is dead. But where the White House sees a bright light, conservatives opposed to immigration reform see doom. They say that if 2013 was the year Senate Democrats voted for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws, in 2014 the Republican House leadership will insist on a piecemeal approach, breaking the Senate bill into fragments. But that is not enough to please critics on the right.
This piecemeal approach, said Bob Dane, a spokesman at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates limiting immigration, has an end goal: to appease big business looking for cheap labor and repeat “hollow promises” of enforcement.
“Doing it in bits and pieces doesn’t make it any better,” Dane said. “The sum total of it is catastrophic for the American worker and for the rule of law. A bill or any of the bills that Republicans are contemplating has a thinly veiled, hollow promise of more border enforcement, but mostly it floods the market with more foreign guest workers and massive amnesty for those who have broken our law.”
Since losing the White House twice to Obama with the help of the Latino voting bloc, which went heavily for the Democratic candidate, Republican lawmakers and candidates have been told by national leadership that they must court minorities, the young and women.
But Boehner’s office says there’s still no intention of going to conference to coordinate bills with the Senate. “Definitely not,” says spokesman Michael Steel. But the immigration reform principles are expected “in the coming weeks.”
Steel wouldn’t talk about the specifics of those principles, but House leadership and policy aides told the National Journal that they are going to be broad and won’t be a concrete proposal. But if Republicans are unwilling to go to conference with a bill, and will release only a set of principles, that brings on the question of how serious they are about reforming immigration.
“It’s an important issue for the country,” Steel said. But if those principles are just a political tactic ahead of the midterm elections in November, said Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the progressive Center for American Progress, Latino voters will see right through it.
“They are going to be scrutinizing very carefully who is it that has the ball, and are they meaningfully trying to pass it to gain yards or are they trying to hold it and burn the clock,” she says. “I think just time will tell.”
“We’re yet to see their level of sincerity, whether they want to have a one-night stand or committed to marriage,” Kelley said. “There will at least begin to be the initial test with the principles, and then whether they can produce a bill by early or mid-spring. I do think that we are looking at this timeline that will encompass the spring and summer before we get into any serious legislative action. That’s not just going to pop up out of thin air. The principles are a first step on that.”
According to the National Journal, Boehner is already doing the legwork, vetting the principles with House Republicans so as to build support for the big unveiling.
That may not help Boehner on his right flank.
“The Republicans are absolutely clueless if they think that an amnesty bill is helping their brand with Hispanics. It’s not,” says FAIR’s Dane, who prefers a strategy of having the president enforce existing laws. “It’s destroying their party, and moreover, whatever minuscule amount of support that Republicans may pick up from Hispanics by endorsing an amnesty bill will be far, far outweighed by the literal defection of core conservative voters. This is the last chance. ... The GOP has to make amends with their core conservative voters. Right now most Republicans voters are angry and irate and looking for options from the Republicans. They go down the amnesty route, that’s it.”