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ICYMI: Two Key Reads on Immigration Reform State of Play

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With immigration reform dominating the news cycle, two reads particularly caught our attention:

In a new editorial titled, “Fixing Immigration, in Principle,” the New York Times captures the promise and potential shortfalls of the House Republicans’ new push on immigration:

What you need to know now that House Republican leaders have unveiled a list of “principles” that have raised hopes for a breakthrough on immigration reform this year:

Principles are no substitute for actual legislation, and we’re still a great distance from a deal. Repairing a system so huge and so broken is a big undertaking for any Congress, much less this dismally dysfunctional one. The Republicans’ grab bag of ideas still leaves Democrats nothing to negotiate with.

That said, the list’s release Thursday, after years of stalemate, leaves us with a palmful of blessings to count.

LEGALIZATION! The question about the nation’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants has always been this: Are they out or in? Criminals or potential Americans? The new principles say that these immigrants must “get right with the law.” This is a big change from “get out,” the central immigration position of the Republicans’ 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who embraced the “self-deportation” mantra of his adviser Kris Kobach, author of Arizona’s brutal immigration law. Mr. Romney’s moral and electoral failure left his party in dire straits with Latino voters. From absolute denial to the brink of grudging acceptance is a big step away from neo-nativism.

AN OVERDUE EPIPHANY ON DREAMERS The principles also acknowledge that children should not be punished for their parents’ acts, a central premise of the Dream Act, a bill to legalize some young immigrants brought here as children. It’s wonderful that Republicans, too, now endorse giving young people — raised as Americans, but with sharply diminished hopes for advancement after high school — a full shot at a future.

But as we await an actual Republican bill, or bills, there remain serious pitfalls to watch out for:

WHAT ABOUT CITIZENSHIP? Any legalization plan has to include the real possibility of immigrants’ becoming Americans. The principles rule out a “special” path to citizenship but do not reject outright the possibility of eventual naturalization for the 11 million. The details matter, and we haven’t seen them yet. Republicans need to remember: Maybe some European or Asian societies are happy to rely on imported laborers with no right to vote, no representation or hope of equality, but that’s not the American way, and must never be.

NEW ENFORCEMENT AND TOO FEW VISAS The Republicans are demanding “significant fines” and other punishments for the undocumented, and the meeting of enforcement benchmarks as a condition for legalization, along with mandatory national expansion of the E-Verify hiring database and a new entry-exit visa system. New layers of enforcement, onerous to the point of spiteful, cannot be allowed to prevent immigrants from leaving the shadows. Increased powers for states and localities to enforce immigration laws — an invitation to racial profiling and other abuses — have no place in any bill. And reforms to legal immigration — with visas for farmworkers, high-skilled workers and others — must be expansive enough to ease crushing backlogs that discourage millions overseas.

THE DEPORTER IN CHIEF As we wait for a bill, which could come in months or years or never, deportations continue. The Obama administration has expelled nearly two million people, breaking up thousands of the families President Obama has repeatedly promised to protect. If Congress fails, will he protect them through his own administrative action, as he already has by deferring deportations for a relative handful of unauthorized youths?

THE TEMPTATION TO DESPAIR We are a long way from the hopeful days when John McCain and Edward Kennedy embarked on big bipartisan Senate legislation that was eventually killed by a Republican filibuster. Reform has died several deaths since then, and millions have suffered. Now Republicans, the party of self-deportation and Arizona-style laws, may be edging closer to saying yes to legal status for millions of the undocumented. Who knows if they’re serious, or if any bills will get past the party’s “hell no” caucus. It will be clear soon enough whether this is the first step back toward the rational, humane reform that should have passed years ago.

The conservative Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis writes a column titled, “‘Why now?’ for immigration reform,” that takes apart the “wait ‘til next year” message – the burgeoning Republican criticism of addressing immigration reform in 2014 rather than after the midterm elections.  Lewis writes:

…if and when Republicans ‘win’ the midterms, the argument for tackling this issue will be an even harder sell.

Anti-immigration reform forces would then say: ‘Why should we do immigration reform now?  I mean, the American public just rejected the Democrats’ agenda.  We had a great 2014 election.  Why would we want to sell out our base when we’re winning?’

Admit it.  This would actually be the predictable response to doing well in the midterms. This is essentially a catch-22. It’s also a pattern.  Opponents of immigration reform have tended to rhetorically move the goal posts — always claiming they support immigration reform in theory — but only if the people advocating for it would just do one small thing to fix it.

When the Senate bill was being pushed, for example, the criticism was that  it was a comprehensive bill — that it was more than 1,000 pages long.  Far better, they said, to break it up into smaller pieces. Anyone think they would be okay with a series of smaller bills today?

Another criticism was that we needed to secure the border first.  Anyone think they’d go for a path to citizenship even after we passed a tough border bill?

The ultimate goal, it seems, isn’t to improve the policy, but to use any reasonable-sounding excuse available to postpone or kill it.  At the end of the day, you may believe immigration reform is good or bad on the merits — and that’s okay.  There are legitimate arguments on both sides.  But the notion that the timing just isn’t right — that you’d be for it next year — or that Boehner and his allies have purely evil motives and are solely trying to do the bidding of the Chamber of Commerce — is sophistry.

It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Republicans do so well in the midterm elections that they conclude they don’t have any problems and that they can just keep on doing what they’ve been doing.  That, of course, would likely sow the seeds for yet another General Election loss — where the turnout is dramatically different.

If you subscribe to the theory that there are fundamental demographic challenges the GOP must sooner or later address, then it’s better not to postpone this.  There really is no good time to eat your vegetables.