Immigration

On Immigration, Tea Party's Bark Is Worse Than Its Bite

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

House Republicans' justification for opposing comprehensive immigration reform just got a lot weaker. While conservatives in the chamber have expressed support for most provisions included in the Senate Gang of Eight bill passed last month—increasing the number of visas for high-skilled workers, instituting a temporary-worker program, and dedicating more money to enforcement—the mass legalization program has been the sticking point. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee like Virginia's Bob Goodlatte and Iowa's Steve King have decried any attempt to provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented as "amnesty" that encourages lawbreaking. But the conventional political explanation for Republicans' opposition is that they fear primary challenges from the Tea Party, which strongly opposes granting citizenship to the undocumented.

The DREAMer Problem

Flickr/J. Valas Images

Yesterday's House Judiciary Committee hearing was supposed to focus on the plight of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children—referred to as "DREAMers." But it inevitably turned to the question at the heart of the immigration-reform battle: what to do with their parents. While members of the committee expressed support across the board for granting citizenship to DREAMers—at least those, in the words of Representative Steve King, who aren't gang members or drug-runners—its more conservative members expressed reservations about where this would lead. "Is this being set up as background amnesty?” asked King. “Who do you enforce the law against if everyone who hasn’t committed a felony is legalized?" The Iowa Republican, following the "secure the border" drumbeat that's become a fixed feature at such hearings, also assailed the Obama administration for failing to enforce immigration law. "Parents bringing their young children to the U.S. illegally is not something we would want to encourage," said Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and the committee chairman.

Semantic Innovation in Immigration Reform

An immigrant inspects her new green card. (Flickr/Daniel Hoherd)

Greg Sargent gets the skinny from a House aide about a potential new immigration proposal in that body, which would include some new triggers and deadlines, but what caught my eye was this part:

The new plan would take the provisional legal status and right to work granted to the undocumented at the outset and reconfigure it as "probation." The plan would require undocumented immigrants to admit having broken U.S. laws and admit guilt (in a civil sense), and enter into a probationary phase, during which they’d have very similar legal rights to the ones they would have under the provisional legal status in the Senate bill.

This concession is designed to help Republicans embrace comprehensive reform. It is meant to give Republicans a response to the charge of "amnesty" — the claim that a path to citizenship will reward lawbreakers — by instead requiring the undocumented to take themselves out of the shadows, admit wrongdoing, and put themselves on a species of probation.

Genius! Seriously.

It Doesn't Matter Who Replaces Janet Napolitano

Flickr/U.S. Army/Sgt. Jim Greenhill

Republicans probably weren’t crying in their coffee this morning after Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced she would resign her post to take over as president of the University of California system. Throughout her tenure—during which the Obama administration oversaw a record number of deportations but also prioritized criminal deportation and offered the children of undocumented immigrants “deferred action”—Republicans assailed the secretary for what they say is the department's failure to enforce current immigration law.

GOP Establishment Fractures on Immigration

Bill Kristol, who once again has some advice for the GOP. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Over the course of this year's immigration debate, we've come to view the Republican party division as follows. On one side, advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, you have a group that is sometimes called "the establishment" or "the elite," made up of people whose primary interest is in the party's long-term national prospects. These are the big money people, the top consultants, some senators, and so on. On the other side, opposing comprehensive reform, you have "the base," which is not only voters but also members of the House with a narrow interest in getting re-elected, usually by appealing to extremely conservative constituencies. On that side you also have some conservative media figures and others with strong ideological motivations against immigration reform. And then caught in the middle you've got the Republican congressional leadership, which can't afford to antagonize the base but also worries about the effect killing immigration reform will have on the party.

But we may be reaching the point where these categories are no longer adequate to describe what's going on within the GOP. This morning, William Kristol and Rich Lowry, the editors of the two most important conservative magazines (the Weekly Standard and National Review) joined together to write an unusual joint editorial titled "Kill the Bill," coming down in opposition to the "Gang of 8" immigration bill that passed the Senate. The substance of their argument is familiar to anyone following this debate—the Obama administration can't be trusted, it won't stop all future illegal immigration, the bill is too long—but the substance isn't really important. What's important is that these two figures, about as establishment as establishment gets, are siding firmly with the anti-reform side.

GOP Might Just Stick with This "Party of White People" Thing

The future of the GOP. (Flickr/scismgenie)

Since the 2012 election, most (not all, but most) Republicans have agreed that if they're going to remain viable in presidential elections in coming years, the party will have to broaden its appeal, particularly to Latino voters. There has been plenty of disagreement about how to go about this task, and whether comprehensive immigration reform, which many Republicans object to, is too high a policy price to pay to achieve some uncertain measure of good will from those voters. But outside of conservative talk radio, there weren't many voices saying that they should junk the whole project. Every once in a while some voice from the past like Phyllis Schlafly would come out and bleat that the party should focus on the white folk who make up the party's beating heart, but to many it seemed like the political equivalent of your racist great aunt saying at Thanksgiving that she really doesn't feel comfortable around those people.

But as immigration reform wends its tortured path through Congress, more mainstream Republicans are having second thoughts. In fact, rather significant backlash is brewing, not just to this bill but to the whole idea of Republicans working to appeal to minorities. Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC has an excellent article explaining how this backlash is spreading, noting that even some people who six months ago were blaming Mitt Romney's position on immigration reform for his loss are now saying that the only viable path to victory is getting turnout up among white voters.

I'll get to why this is a very bad idea in a moment, but the logic at work isn't completely crazy.

The Cruel Math of Immigration Reform in the House

Flickr/K P Tripathi

Every politician who gets elected to Congress believes that she's going for idealistic reasons. Sure, there are compromises to be made and certain kinds of drudgery to suffer through (particularly fundraising, which they all hate, and justifiably so), but they each believe that they'll do the right thing and work for the kind of change they'd like to see. Nobody gazes up at the Capitol building having been sent there by the people to do the people's work and says, "I'm going to just keep my head down and try not to take any political risks, so I can keep getting elected indefinitely."

But in practice, they frequently face times when they can support something they believe is a good idea for one reason or another, but carries some risk. As comprehensive immigration reform is being considered in the House, each member is going to weighing questions like the following: How much good do I think this bill is going to do? How many votes will supporting it cost me? How hard will it be to convince the constituents who didn't like my support for it to vote for me anyway? Is it going to make fundraising easier or harder? Is the bill going to face a tight vote, so my choice will make a difference? Is my party leadership offering me something to vote the way they want, or threatening to punish me if I don't? And way, way down the list is: How will the outcome of this vote affect my party's long-term prospects in presidential elections?

My, What a Long Bill You Have!

A page of the immigration bill, with very few words on it.

Some people imagine that talking points are distributed by some Central Office of Liberalism or Conservative Headquarters, put out each day with instructions for what to say and how to say it. That's not really how it works; sure, there are organizations that email around suggestions on arguments people ought to make, but for the most part, talking points are more viral, spreading from person to person when they find an amenable host. Sometimes a talking point spreads because it really is vivid and persuasive, while at other times, it spreads despite being completely ridiculous.

So it is with an old chestnut we've heard before on issues like health care, and we're now hearing on immigration reform. The talking point says that a bill currently being debated contains many pages, and therefore must be a bad thing for America.

Los Infiltradores

How three young undocumented activists risked everything to expose the injustices of immigrant detention—and invented a new form of protest. 

Stephen Pavey

When Marco Saavedra was arrested for the first time, during a September 2011 protest against U.S. immigration policy in Charlotte, North Carolina, he thought he was prepared. It was what he’d come to do. Still, he was taking a risk. Saavedra is undocumented, and he was aware that the Charlotte police had an agreement with the federal government, under what’s known as the 287(g) program, that gave them the power to apprehend illegal immigrants and turn them over for deportation. Saavedra, who was then 21, had known dozens of undocumented activists who’d been arrested without being deported. But as he was sitting, handcuffed, in a gray-brick holding cell at the county jail, it was hard to suppress the fear. He’d felt it most of his life, since his parents brought him from rural Mexico to New York City when he was three; growing up, he’d done all he could to make sure that even his closest friends didn’t know his status.

Immigration Reform, Now Surging With Testosterone

Flickr/Donna Burton

According to the latest news, senators have reached another in an endless series of agreements on the evolving immigration bill, this one providing for doubling the size of the Border Patrol and adding 700 miles of new fencing. The 700 miles of fence was on the table before, but doubling the Border Patrol is a bigger increase than had been discussed up until now. But what to call this proposal? It needs a name, one that says to wavering Republicans that if they support the bill, they're big, strong, virile, manly men whom younger women continue to find sexually compelling. OK, you may say that my interpretation is a bit strained. Maybe it is. But let's take a look:

Republicans' Immigration Spending Spree

Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

When the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of the Gang of Eight's immigration bill Tuesday—which showed the legislation would cut the deficit by $197 billion over the next 10 years and by $700 billion over the next 20 thanks to tax revenue from increased economic activity—its opponents pounced. “If there’s one thing Washington knows how to do, it’s to come up with bogus cost estimates,” Texas senator Ted Cruz told right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who like Cruz sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been a staunch opponent of the bill, assailed the agency for failing to account for spending past the first 10 years (the agency typically does not conduct detailed cost projections past 10 years given the difficulty of doing so accurately).

Marco Rubio's Broken English Requirement

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Marco Rubio wants immigrants to learn English—and fast. Last week, the Florida Senator introduced an amendment to the Gang of Eight's immigration bill, currently being debated on the floor of the Senate, that would require undocumented immigrants to demonstrate English proficiency before becoming legal permanent residents. Current law already requires English proficiency for naturalization, but the proposal would impose the requirement just to obtain a green card. "I just truly believe that as part of any successful immigration reform, you have to have assimilation," Rubio said in explaining the purpose of the amendment. "And one of the quickest ways for people to assimilate into our culture and into our society is to speak the unifying language of our country, which is English." Rubio says his amendment closes a "loophole" in the bill, which only requires the undocumented to demonstrate they are enrolled in a government-approved English course to become legal permanent residents. A vote on the amendment is expected in the next few weeks.

The Gang of 8 Lobbies Fox News

Ryan Lizza has a behind-the-scenes article about immigration reform in the New Yorker, based mostly on interviews with members of the Senate's Gang of Eight, which shows some of the personal aspects of how big legislation can get accomplished. For instance, John McCain, ever the prima donna, comes across as seething with resentment that Marco Rubio has gotten more attention on the issue than he has. And the part that may get the most notice is the blunt words of an unnamed Rubio aide, who in regard to the question of whether certain immigrants take jobs from Americans, says, "There are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can't cut it...There shouldn't be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer. There are people who just can't get it, can't do it, don't want to do it. And so you can't obviously discuss that publicly." Hey dude, guess what: you just did! But in any case, here's the part that interested me:

Rand Paul Plays God Politics

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

As Sen. Rand Paul delivered his keynote speech on immigration reform at yesterday's gathering of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, anxieties about the GOP’s identity crisis rippled through the room. The likely 2016 presidential hopeful spoke briefly in Spanish before discussing his Christian faith and opposition to abortion. He assured his audience he got them: “Man’s humanity to man is how we will be judged,” he said.

Ghosts of the Rio Grande

Every year hundreds of immigrants die along the U.S.-Mexico border. Too many are never identified. 

AP Images

The path across the border is littered with bodies. Bodies old and bodies young. Bodies known and bodies unknown. Bodies hidden, bodies buried, bodies lost, and bodies found. The stories of the dead haunt the frontier towns from Nuevo Laredo to Nogales, and even deep within the interior of Mexico down to Honduras, someone always knows someone who has vanished—one of los desaparecidos—during their journey north.

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