Immigration Reform: From Slam Dunk to Gasping for Air

Published on July 22nd, 2013

By Joe Guzzardi
July 22, 2013

As the old English proverb goes, “There’s many a slip between cup and lip.” No phrase could more accurately describe the ill-fated congressional effort to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. In January, word leaked out that the Gang of 8 was meeting behind closed doors to draft what insiders said would be the toughest but also fairest immigration bill ever written. In August, after the Senate passed the toothless Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744, immigration reform headed to the House where it’s now gasping for air.

Despite enthusiastic, almost giddy media coverage, insistence from Hispanic spokesmen that “now is the time” as well as overwhelming endorsements from big business, the Chamber of Commerce, religious and academic leaders, advocates have not been able to push the very bad Senate bill over the finish line.

Gauging what happened to immigration reform between January’s slam dunk status and today’s flailing effort reveals how hard it is to pass contentious legislation. On Capitol Hill, nothing is more toxic than immigration.

First, the Senate got off on the wrong foot by writing its bill in secrecy, with the assistance of immigration lawyers and Hispanic lobbyists but without input from immigration skeptics. The result was S. 744, a bill that would grant immediate legal status to 11 million aliens already living in the U.S. and open up the floodgates to tens of millions more overseas workers despite the nation’s sustained high unemployment. Worse, the oft-promised border security was nowhere to be found in S. 744’s final version. Instead, critics could and did summarize the bill as granting amnesty immediately but enforcement would come later, if ever.

Second, one of the supposed motivators for Republicans to get on the amnesty train is the Hispanic vote. Allegedly, Hispanics would reward Republicans who support amnesty at the polling booth. Thus, the GOP would be able to sway enough Hispanics to keep the party from eventual collapse. Subsequently, however, multiple political analysts reported that for Romney to have captured the 2012 election, he would have had to do one of two things: 1) increase his Hispanic vote share from 27 percent to more than 70 percent or 2) bump up his white percentage from 59 to 62 percent. Obviously, performing fractionally better among whites is easier than converting a major bloc of Hispanics. Even John McCain, one of the Gang, confessed that Republicans who vote for amnesty would not win over Hispanics.

Third, President Obama put his muscle behind S. 744, convened meetings with the movers and shakers and spoke out about immigration’s importance. With distrust of the federal government rampant and with presidential scandals too numerous to count, the White House’s intervention was a bad idea.

As long as immigration reform has a pulse, passing some form of legislation remains possible. When Congress returns from its August recess, it will face a daunting calendar. A looming government shutdown, the debt ceiling and the festering sequestration supersede non-urgent immigration reform. Those more compelling issues, however, offer the opportunity for smoke-filled room wheeling and dealing, what’s disingenuously known in Washington making a Grand Bargain.

Still, the odds on immigration reform seem long—and for the best of reasons. Passing a bill would be an inside job driven by special interests and donors, not the American public. Americans aren’t convinced that the government will enforce its own immigration laws whether they have been on the books for years or are in the formative process.






Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]


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