Last night Speaker John Boehner revealed the House Republicans’ draft “Standards for Immigration Reform.” It seems to be a plan designed to please … no one. (More)
Speaker Boehner Reveals GOP Immigration Plan
Perhaps having had his fill of private bickering with the Tea Party caucus, Speaker John Boehner yesterday made his immigration reform plan, and the inevitable debate, a matter of public record. At the House GOP’s annual retreat in Cambridge, Maryland, he released copies of the House Republican leaders’ draft “Standards for Immigration Reform.”
“Border Security and Interior Enforcement Must Come First”
As expected, Republicans insist that border security must be a prerequisite for any other reform:
It is the fundamental duty of any government to secure its borders, and the United States is failing in this mission. We must secure our borders now and verify that they are secure. In addition, we must ensure now that when immigration reform is enacted, there will be a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future. Faced with a consistent pattern of administrations of both parties only selectively enforcing our nation’s immigration laws, we must enact reform that ensures that a President cannot unilaterally stop immigration enforcement.
That paragraph alone should be the deal-breaker for Democrats. Phrases like “verify that [our borders] are secure” and “zero tolerance policy” will neither appease the Tea Party base nor be workable as public policy. No possible combination of walls, drones, and border patrols can stop every individual from crossing illegally. There will always be people who overstay visas, and not enough resources to find them all before Republicans insist their “zero tolerance policy” is being ignored. Until the GOP abandon absolutist buzzwords and accept demonstrable progress toward practical enforcement standards, President Obama and Democrats have no reason to believe the Republicans are negotiating in good faith.
“The needs of the agricultural industry”
Republicans pull a rhetorical bait-and-switch on green cards:
For far too long, the United States has emphasized extended family members and pure luck over employment-based immigration. This is inconsistent with nearly every other developed country. Every year thousands of foreign nationals pursue degrees at America’s colleges and universities, particularly in high skilled fields. Many of them want to use their expertise in U.S. industries that will spur economic growth and create jobs for Americans. When visas aren’t available, we end up exporting this labor and ingenuity to other countries. Visa and green card allocations need to reflect the needs of employers and the desire for these exceptional individuals to help grow our economy.
The goal of any temporary worker program should be to address the economic needs of the country and to strengthen our national security by allowing for realistic, enforceable, usable, legal paths for entry into the United States. Of particular concern are the needs of the agricultural industry, among others. It is imperative that these temporary workers are able to meet the economic needs of the country and do not displace or disadvantage American workers.
What begins as a pitch for highly-educated and -skilled workers turns into something very different. Those highly-educated and -skilled workers would, after all, “displace or disadvantage American workers.” In fact Republicans hope to codify the exploitation of immigrant labor to serve “the needs of the agricultural industry, among others” (gardening? domestic service?) in bare-subsistence jobs that few (white) Americans will accept.
“No special path to citizenship”
And then there’s the 11-Million Person Question:
Our national and economic security depend on requiring people who are living and working here illegally to come forward and get right with the law. There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws – that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law. Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program. Finally, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.
Under the GOP plan, the 11 million undocumented workers now in the U.S. could “live legally and without fear” but without any path toward citizenship and – perhaps the cruelest phrase in the document – “without access to public benefits.”
No WIC for new moms and infants. No sliding-fee care at public health clinics. No free or reduced-price lunches at public schools. No public scholarships or grants at universities. No unemployment benefits or publicly-funded job training if they get laid off. No Social Security disability or death benefits if they get injured or killed before retirement age. No Social Security annuity or Medicare benefits if they survive that long.
Those 11 million undocumented workers would pay federal, state, and local taxes to help fund all of those programs … but only for others. It’s the kind of taxation that inspired the original Boston Tea Party.
“Or any bill perceived as an amnesty bill”
They may or may not be right, but their argument is that we should focus exclusively on Obamacare and on jobs. In that context, why on earth would the House dive into immigration right now? It makes no sense, unless you’re Harry Reid. Republicans are poised for an historic election this fall–a conservative tidal wave much like 2010. The biggest thing we could do to mess that up would be if the House passed an amnesty bill – or any bill perceived as an amnesty bill – that demoralized voters going into November. Rather than responding to the big-money lobbying on K Street, we need to make sure working-class Americans show up by the millions to reject Obamacare and vote out the Democrats. Amnesty will ensure they stay home.
Nor is the House Republicans’ plan cruel enough for the National Review:
Over the past 24 hours, two key Senate Republicans have criticized House Republican leadership. Jeff Sessions slammed House Republican leaders for being sympathetic to an immigration package that could harm the middle class and working Americans. Ted Cruz released a statement noting that the House’s movement on immigration could imperil the GOP’s chances of victory in November. One might approve of Senator Sessions’ concern for the working American and find persuasive Senator Cruz’s warnings about political tactics. But it would be far better if they did not have to make these points at all: if some in the House GOP were not so willing to allow the president to impose his flawed vision of immigration reform upon the nation.
It’s unlikely the House will vote on this plan anytime soon. The Wire’s Philip Bump is among many who think Speaker Boehner will hold off a vote until after the House GOP primaries, as Sen. John McCain proposed back in October.
That would be fitting. This isn’t a serious policy proposal. It’s a political fig leaf … and too transparent to cover their privates.