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Eugene Robinson: GOP is "Whistling Past the Graveyard" on Immigration

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Earlier this week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal came out against the Senate immigration bill in a National Review column that Dave Weigel slammed as “incoherent until you realize he wants to win the Iowa caucuses.”

Jindal wrote a lot about how there was pork in the Senate bill, and then said that if Congress wanted truly wanted to fix immigration, “the path to reform is just not that complicated.”

“It just takes three simple steps,” he wrote.  1) Secure the border, 2) let people gain legal status and citizenship, 3) reform legal immigration.

Jindal writes about his three-step path to reform as if nobody else on either side of the aisle could see the obvious solution but him.  But Jindal’s proposal are the main planks in every single piece of comprehensive immigration legislation ever, including the bill the Senate just passed.

The problem with his plan is that he wants to do each component one at a time.  Secure the border, and then let immigrants gain legal status and citizenship.  “Border-state governors and the U.S. Congress must be the ones who verify that our borders are finally secured,” he writes.  “Once the border is secure, and not before, we should provide an opportunity for those who came here illegally seeking to work for a better life to gain legal status rather quickly.”

Except that many GOP legislators are flat-out against letting immigrants ever become citizens.  And permanently pretending that the border is not secure–as they have been for years despite abundant evidence to the contrary–is apparently an effective way to stonewall legalization.

Take this recent exchange between Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and the Washington Examiner.  Cotton starts off by saying some thing similar to Jindal–that immigration enforcement must come first.  But when the Examiner presses him to talk about what happens once the border is secure, he can’t give an answer.  That’s because for legislators like Cotton, the border will never be considered secure.

WE: If you were quarterbacking the House Republican caucus, what would you do next. What should House Republicans do next?
Cotton: I would say we are not going to go to conference with these bills unless the Senate agrees to drop its legalization first approach…

WE: What if they did put security first, would you be open to legalization?
Cotton: There has to be security in place and actually effective. We have to see a fence in place actually stopping illegal immigration.

WE: What if they wrote a bill that said, ‘In three years, we will have new fence in these places, and E-Verify will be up and running, and if those to things are met, then legalization.’ Could you support that?
Cotton: Not in that bill. There has to be enforcement in place, working, so the American people can see it working, and its like physical objective enforcement. Not programs, or milestones, or strategy or anything else. Enforcement in place. And then once it is in place, and it has been demonstrated to be effective, then at that point.

WE: Sounds like that would have to be a separate bill?
Cotton: Yes. Separate vote in a separate conference.

As Greg Sargent wrote earlier this week:

1) Is there any level of border security that can get a majority of House Republicans to support a path to citizenship? What would that look like? Can a majority of House Republicans accept citizenship under any circumstances?…

We already know the answer to number one is almost certainly No.

His colleague at the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson, has more today:

House Republicans think they can begin with “border security,” which would be laughable if the need for real immigration reform were not so serious. It is ridiculous to think the nearly 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico can be made impregnable.

The border, after all, was judged 84 percent secure last year by the Government Accountability Office — meaning that only 16 percent of attempts to enter the country illegally from Mexico were successful. Any improvement, at this point, would necessarily be fairly modest. Perhaps Republicans know of a border somewhere in the world that is 100 percent secure. I don’t…

So the House Republicans’ intransigence isn’t really about the border. It’s about avoiding the central question, which is what to do about the 11 million undocumented migrants who are here already.

And avoiding that central question, according to Robinson, is idiotic for the GOP because it writes them off among all the fastest-growing demographics in the nation.  Yet the House GOP still prefers to do nothing.

As Robinson concludes, “it’s sad to see a once great political party carry on as if whistling past the graveyard were a plan.”