As a nation of mostly immigrants, this issue has a special resonance for Americans. Our “golden door” is part-and-parcel of the national identity, as are second-generation success stories. We like that Lady Liberty beckons to huddled masses yearning to breathe free, at least so long as the wretched refuse of your teeming shore doesn’t decide to move-in next door. Indeed, as every new wave of immigrants has arrived, they’ve had to shoulder their way-into the cultural mainstream, altering its course with their unique contributions. And once established, each new group tends to wonder why the golden doorman isn’t more selective.
Comprehensive immigration reform was last passed in 1986, in a bill also with bi-partisan sponsorship. The so-called Immigration Reform and Control Act made hiring illegals illegal, and required at least some inquiry into the legal status of prospective employees (the I-9 Form). It contained a conditional amnesty provision, which some three million people accepted. It also created a thriving black market in bogus Social Security cards, and failed to stem the tide of illegal immigration. More recent attempts to address these issues were defeated via conservative opposition.
This new bill, created by a so-called Gang of 8 senators reaching across the aisle, creates a guest worker program, provides a 13-year path to citizenship and requires some $40 billion(!) in new spending. That investment includes the wages of 20,000 new border patrol agents, and 700 miles of southern border fence – a latter-day Maginot Line that is likely to be at least as effective. Big Business and Big Labor interests have signed-on.
The bidding has been fascinating. The Dems seem to recognize that this may be a rare opportunity to actually accomplish Something before next year’s midterm elections. They are willing to incorporate that ton of spending on The Wall and the border patrol, perhaps privately calling it “infrastructure” and “the only jobs stimulus that has any chance in the House of Representatives.” For his part, the Prez has stayed in the background, but made it abundantly clear that his Administration supports the effort.
The GOP’s positions reflect a schizophrenia between pragmatic national strategists and more ideological locals. The Nationals have read the demographic tea leaves that doom the Party on its current trajectory. The Presidential future looks dim for a Party identified as angry old white people, and there simply are not enough evangelicals and one-percenters to roll-up with them into a dependable majority of the electorate. They are max’d out against a voting population that is younger, browner, and more female than it once was. Thus, they advocate outreach to an Hispanic community that voted overwhelmingly for their opposition in 2012 – immigration reform affecting Latina/os is a cornerstone of that project.
The Locals, however, are heavily represented in the GOP House majority. They live in electorally ‘safe’ House districts with very few Hispanic voters. The sentiment in those districts runs heavily against any amnesty – they see little advantage in bucking that tide. Via Speaker of the House Mr. Boehner, they have pre-announced their intention to ignore the Senate’s work, and bring forward their own measure – very likely more punitive and even more enforcement-oriented. They also operate under an internal rule that requires a support by a majority of their own caucus before a measure can be brought forward for a vote that actually includes Democrats.
Although I don’t often see things their way, I do understand the Locals’ position. It seems unlikely that any bill that does get passed -- even the Senate version -- will sway Hispanic voters toward the GOP. To the extent that Hispanics are a bloc for whom immigration policy has real and central meaning, they seem likely to recognize that the Democratic Senators and Prez are primarily responsible for the favorable provisions of the bill. Thus, the GOP pragmatists are not going to get the voting bump they seek if something passes -- and if it fails, it will drive more folks into the Democratic tent.
So, the dynamic now seems to be: can the GOP House members whose districts are Not safe break through and get a bill brought forward and passed – or will we get ‘smore of the same old circular camp contest around the fire? It’s going to be a long, hot summer.