Angelica Salas, of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, urges protesters to fight for immigration and citizenship reform legislation, in front of a regional Republican Party headquarters in Burbank, Calif., Tuesday. (AP Photo/Sarah Pa
Updated: August 15, 2013 6:39AM
Let’s consider immigration reform. Have I lost your attention yet?
I really hope not. If we, a nation of immigrants, fail to get this right, we are in serious trouble.
After excruciating negotiations, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill this month that included a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants here illegally and billions more dollars for more fences and border guards.
House Republicans immediately called the Senate bill dead on arrival in their chamber. They don’t want 11 million undocumented people to become citizens or get government benefits. They do like the idea of spending more on border security, saying that after the border is secure, they’ll decide what to do about undocumented immigrants.
They are not impressed that President Barack Obama has increased border security by 20 percent or deported far more undocumented people than his predecessor. They don’t even like the Senate bill that provides for so much more money for border patrol that even some Republican senators called it “overkill.”
Alarmed that his party seems unable to compromise on immigration reform, former President George W. Bush broke his usual post-term silence and urged Congress to act, insisting the status quo is not working. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who negotiated the Senate bill with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as part of the Gang of Eight, met with Obama to try to devise a strategy to win support from those Republicans who hate government and don’t want Congress to do much of anything.
The real problem facing McCain, Schumer and Obama is that many Republicans have already stated they oppose any plan that eventually lets immigrants vote because most of them are likely to vote for Democrats. Most House Republicans represent districts with few Hispanics, so they don’t worry about backlash if they kill immigration reform. Also, if Obama calls reform opponents bigoted, he may lose any hope of getting something through the House.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) caved to conservatives because he needs their support to keep his job as speaker. So he bucked party elders and declared the Senate bill flawed and unacceptable, even though Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has been considered a darling of the Tea Party movement, keeps warning that doing nothing is putting the GOP in political peril.
McCain said 11 million people deserve to know their future.
Businesses want immigration reform because they are losing the global battle for talent. And in addition to 11 million undocumented people in this country, there are another 8 million who are legal residents but haven’t pursued citizenship because the process is lengthy and complicated. That, too, needs reform.
Republicans who oppose a path to citizenship say they won’t reward illegal behavior, especially since many others have been patiently waiting to enter the U.S. legally. Democrats who are pressing for a path to citizenship for 11 million people, many of whom have been here for years, argue that creating a class of indentured servants who can work and pay taxes but not vote is not the American way.
Boehner said he is pushing for a piecemeal approach to immigration reform. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the GOP’s 2012 candidate for vice president, agreed: “We don’t want to rush anything.”
After years of bitter debate, there doesn’t seem to be much danger of that.
Ann McFeatters covers the White House for USA Today.
Scripps Howard News Service