Fixing immigration: Another front in the GOP’s uncivil war

     

    Republicans these days are warring with each other on multiple fronts – whether or how to replace Obamacare, whether or how to foment a new debt ceiling crisis, whether or how to rewrite the tax code, whether or how to talk more effectively to voters who aren’t white males – so it’s no surprise that the House leaders’ new immigration reform principles have already cleaved a deeper divide.

    Let’s actually give some props to John Boehner’s team. Realizing that the GOP faces a bleak future if it keeps dissing the burgeoning Hispanic electorate – which waxed Mitt “self-deportation” Romney in 2012, arguably costing him four or five states – Boehner and his allies have taken a big step toward tolerance. Their statement on immigration, released yesterday, doesn’t endorse a path to citizenship, but it says that undocumented immigrants should have a path to legal status. And it rejects right-wing nativism, the notion (popular in the white conservative base) that the immigrants should just go back where they came from.

    So, naturally, conservatives with an intolerant ‘tude are seriously ticked off.

    It’s not easy to craft a middle path on immigration reform, but Boehner has tried. Key excerpts: “There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws….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…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.”

    Note the glimmers of progress. Undocumented immigrants should be able to “live legally” in America. The statement talks about “specific enforcement triggers,” but the triggers actually aren’t specified; in translation, the Boehner team apparently thinks it’s fine if these immigrants stay here and work here while the enforcement issue is sorted out. Plus, the statement swings the door wide open for the children who were brought here illegally. They should be given “an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship.”

    Naturally, all this is a big problem for nativist Republicans, who view the statement as a foot in the door for “amnesty,” and as an insult to the white conservatives who are crucial to the GOP in the ’14 midterm elections. They’re threatening all kinds of dire stuff.

    Tea-party ex-congressman Joe Walsh went to Twitter and banged his keyboard: “If Republicans push for legalization or citizenship, there may be no denying that the time for a third party is upon us.” Similarly, Bill Kristol warned in a Weekly Standard editorial: “Grassroots activists around the country are now going to make sure there’s an anti-amnesty independent candidate on the general election ballot…..(I)f GOP leadership proceeds with this unique combination of cynicism and recklessness, who could blame some voters for supporting such an independent candidate in November?”

    Bill Kristol has long been hilariously wrong about almost everything (one of my favorites, from 2006: “Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary, I’ll predict that right now”), which is why his “anti-amnesty” ballot scenario is just another blast of hot air. But at minimum it’s indicative of the ever-intensifying uncivil war.

    The conservative National Review pleaded with Boeher: “Don’t do it…The last thing the party needs is a brutal intramural fight.” Actually, this fight has been waged for years. Back in 2007, President Bush pushed for immigration reform – he had this wild and crazy idea that welcoming immigrants would be good for his party – but he was torpedoed by congressional conservatives. The difference now is that even House GOP leaders are tilting toward tolerance, and that has fueled the fervor on the right.

    Performance artist Ann Coulter thinks that the leaders are “selling out” the party, that immigration reform is just a scam to boost the Democratic voter rolls. She says “it’s fantastic for the Democrats, who are well on their way to a permanent majority, so they can completely destroy the last remnants of what was once known as ‘the land of the free.'” Gee, I always thought that welcoming immigrants – and legalizing undocumented immigrants, as we did during the ’30s, ’40s, and ’80s – actually strengthened the land of the free. And what does it say about conservatives that they don’t want to compete for those new voters?

    It’s probably a waste of space to quote Ted Cruz, but I do respect his entertainment value. He thinks that if the House Republicans move any immigration reform bill (even one that only offers legal status instead of citizenship), conservative voters will just stay home in November: “Anyone pushing an amnesty bill right now should go ahead and put a ‘Harry Reid for Majority Leader’ sticker on their car, because that will be the likely effect if Republicans refuse to listen to the American people and foolishly change the subject from Obamacare to amnesty.”

    Try to unpack that one. I wish Cruz had quoted a poll showing that “the American people” want Congress to lay off “amnesty” and focus on Obamacare. But alas, that was impossible; he concocted that poll in his head. Truth is, 66 percent of Americans support either a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, or a path to legal status short of citizenship. (It’s 54 percent for option one, plus 12 percent for option two.) On this issue, the conservative base is miles from the mainstream

    Time will tell whether Boehner’s team can translate its statement of principles into actual legislation, much less square it with the reform package (including a path to citizenship) that cleared the Senate chamber last June. It’s possible that the current conservative backlash is just noise, and that President Obama and the Democrats, as evidenced by their friendly statements yesterday, are right to be optimistic that the Republicans are finally tiptoeing toward tolerance.

    Maybe the leaders are finally heeding this advice: “It’s very important to fix a broken system, to treat people with respect. And have confidence in our capacity to assimilate people…Good policy is good politics, as far as I’m concerned.” So said George W. Bush in 2013. On the other hand, maybe he’s just too much of a flaming lefty for today’s conservative crowd.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

     

     

     

     

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