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On Immigration, Ohio Leaders Should Do What's Right — Not What's "Right"

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Cross-posted at The Hill:

I think it’s time that Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) , Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted had a meeting on immigration.  They seem a bit scattered when it comes to the policy—although they do seem united on the political response.  Maybe that’s all that matters to them, but the rest of us Ohioans want more from our leaders in Columbus and Washington.

Looking back to last November, Kasich was spotted speaking honestly and off-the-party-line at the Republican Governors Association conference, when he said that the country may need to allow undocumented immigrants to work toward citizenship.

“We may have to do it,” Kasich said. “I know what they did. I know they jumped the line. I don’t like it. But in the end, it may be necessary. I’m open to it, I can tell you that.”  Kasich’s blunt and practical remarks set off rounds of speculation that he might be a new kind of Republican—one that could actually win a national election in 2016.

Then, in December, Kasich’s lawyer—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine—signed the state onto a lawsuit attacking President Obama’s own practical approach to immigration policy.  After Congress failed to pass reform, the president decided to move forward with the pieces he could implement on his own, including the registration of certain undocumented immigrantswho are not priorities for deportation.  Certain immigrants with roots and ties in the United States will be able to register with the government, pay a fee, go through a background check, and receive temporary immigration papers if they qualify.  It’s a way to separate high and low priority immigrants so that our nation’s deportation resources are focused on the best targets: as Obama put it, on “felons not families.”

If successful in blocking these policies from taking effect, the lawsuit supported by DeWine would deny $41 million in much needed tax revenue to Ohio over the next five years, and threaten the stability of thousands of families with American children and spouses as their heads of household are once again up for deportation.

The lawsuit, originating in Texas but supported by other Republican-led states, is widely recognized for what it is: a partisan attack with no actual basis in the law.  It’s a repeat of the strategy Republicans have employed on their other favorite issue, Obamacare: use the courts to score political points, sow confusion, and try to undermine a policy that will become even more popular as more and more people’s lives are transformed.  It’s pure partisan politics, with the ugliest of consequences for real Ohioans.

Cue entry of Secretary of State Jon Husted, who was apparently feeling left out of all the partisan mudsligning.  In late January, he sent a letter to the President expressing belief that the “recent executive actions could jeopardize [the] integrity [of the voter rolls] by making it much easier for people who are not U.S. citizens to illegal register and cast ballots.”  Despite the fact that Husted’s own investigation into illegal voting in Ohio proved the problem to be statically insignificant, the Secretary of State is highly concerned about this “expanding loophole.”

(Question for Science Friday: if an expanding loophole is actually a black hole, does it really make a sound?)

Apparently, Husted’s partisan colleagues in Congress are similarly concerned, and have invited him to testify at another taxpayer-funded press conference, masquerading as a congressional hearing, on the issue next week.  Yep, the same people who are willing to risk the shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security in order to make political points on immigration are inviting Husted to agree with them–I mean testify–at a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ironically, Husted’s concerns put him at odds with the opinion of Attorney General Mike DeWine, at least the 2013 version of Mike DeWine, who made it possible for recipients of a similar 2012 Obama immigration initiative to obtain driver’s licenses (which Husted sees as the gateway to unauthorized voting).

Husted’s difference with DeWine is not that surprising, however, when you consider that even Mike DeWine doesn’t appear to agree with Mike DeWine on immigration.  As a senator, DeWine was a strong supporter of immigration reform with a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans.  He was instrumental in preventing a miscarriage of justice when Manny Bartsch, a young Ohio man who knew no other country, faced deportation.  And, he made it possible for young DREAMers with immigration papers to earn driver’s licenses in Ohio and do basic things like pay for car insurance (but no, not vote.  That’s still illegal.)

Today Bartsch has a work permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, one of the initiatives that DeWine now seems to undercut.  Bartsch recently sent a letter to DeWine that said “Since 2005 I have received my Bachelor’s degree from Heidelberg University. I served as President of my fraternity, Greek Council Executive Committee member, and I was very involved in my campus community. What else do I have to do to prove I belong here? What happened since 2005 that made you change your mind?”

Clearly there’s a lot of incoherence on policy grounds among Ohio’s leaders (and even, apparently, in Mike DeWine’s own head).  But there is agreement on the political response—and it’s in support of Republican partisanship despite what’s good for Ohio families, communities, and taxpaying residents.

In the meantime, back in Congress, Ohio “leaders” like House Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Jim Jordan, and Sen. Rob Portman have helped manufacture a funding crisis for the Department of Homeland Security that makes it look more and more likely that this crucial department will face a shutdown at the end of this month—all because of immigration politics.

It’s not looking good, gentlemen.  Ohio voters did not send you to Washington and Columbus to play partisan games, shut down national security, and destabilize families.  Get it together and stop towing the party line on immigration.  Do what’s right, not “right.”