Washington, DC — Self-delusion is a sad spectacle. Watching Republicans convince themselves that killing immigration reform actually helps the GOP is excruciating, and I wish somebody would make it stop.
House Speaker John Boehner’s unruly caucus has been busy convincing itself not to accept or even modify the bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate. Rather, it wants to annihilate it. It’s not that these Republicans want a different kind of comprehensive reform, it’s that they don’t want comprehensive reform at all.
The Obama administration “cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill,” Boehner and the GOP leadership said in a statement. Instead, the idea is supposedly to deal with the tightly woven knot of immigration issues one at a time.
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That’s like sitting down with a piece of cake and saying, “First I’m going to eat the flour, then the sugar, then the eggs.”
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 U.S. and Mexico can be made impregnable.
The border, after all, was judged 84 percent secure last year by the federal Government Accountability Office — meaning that only 16 percent of attempts to enter the country illegally from Mexico were successful. Any improvement, at this point, will necessarily be fairly modest. Perhaps Republicans know of a land border somewhere in the world that is 100 percent secure. I don’t.
And never mind that the flow of undocumented migrants is way down from its peak while apprehensions of would-be migrants are way up. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill, if enacted, could slash illegal immigration in half. No realistic increase in border security would do as much.
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.
In the view that has become far-right dogma, giving these people a path to citizenship “rewards bad behavior” and puts them ahead of presumably well-behaved foreigners who are waiting “in line” for admittance. For the most adamant House Republicans, giving the undocumented any legal status and permission to stay would amount to “amnesty.”
No legal status, of course, means no solution. Opponents of comprehensive reform should just come out and say what they mean: Rather than accept measures that studies say would not only reduce illegal immigration but also boost economic growth, House Republicans would prefer to do nothing.
This makes no sense as policy or as politics. Amazingly, however, some conservatives who should know better — magazine editors Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry of National Review — now contend that the GOP would actually help itself politically by killing the Senate immigration bill.
This line of argument — I can’t call it reasoning — holds that the Senate bill must be killed because it does not end illegal immigration for all time, it does not fix the legal immigration system for all time, and it is really long. The GOP should not waste time and effort chasing after Latino and Asian-American votes, according to this view, and instead should concentrate on winning working-class whites with an economic message for the striving middle class.
As for the Senate bill, Kristol and Lowry wrote in a joint editorial that “House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart.”
Some House Republicans worry openly that giving undocumented aliens a path to citizenship will eventually add millions of Democratic voters to the rolls. But they should be more concerned about the millions of Latino citizens who are unregistered or do not bother to vote. Democrats are making a concerted play for these people. Republicans are telling them they’d like to deport their relatives and friends.
Most House Republicans have nothing to worry about for the time being; their districts are safe. But the GOP’s fortunes in national contests — and eventually in statewide races as well — will be increasingly dim. Maybe they’ll wake up when Texas begins to change from red to blue.
In the meantime, it’s sad to see a once-great political party carry on as if whistling past the graveyard were a plan.