Obama Pushes Ahead With Immigration Reform -- Here's the Good, Bad and the Ugly
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For conservatives, the package offers yet more militarization of the border – a process long underway – a phase-in of mandatory citizenship checks using the controversial E-Verify system and a lot of hoops to jump through before a migrant worker can become legal – he or she would have to pay a fine and any back taxes owed, take civics classes and prove his or her proficiency in English before going to “the back of the line.”
Whether such a policy can be passed will be the key question in the coming months. The political and media elites in the Beltway are confident that Republicans are sufficiently chastened by the GOP's declining share of the Latino and Asian-American votes -- and those of other immigrant groups – that they will be willing to buck their base to get something done.
But this conventional wisdom may be underestimating the degree of fractiousness that defines the conservative movement today. Sean Hannity may see the partisan benefit in getting onboard, but Michelle Malkin is a better harbinger of the passions of the base – “Suicidal GOP senators join open-borders Dems for Shamnesty Redux,” screamed her headline.
Meanwhile, many members of the House GOP caucus are insulated from both popular and elite opinion. An analysis by the National Journal highlights the problem for a party struggling to connect with non-white voters:
Fully 131 of the 233 House Republicans represent districts that are more than 80 percent white. Not only have many of those members opposed measures beyond improving border security in the past, but there are also no natural pressure groups for immigration reform in their districts. The Democratic Caucus, which is largely unified in support of some sort of immigration-reform proposal, has just 31 members from such very white districts.
And while the national party has embarked on a period of introspection forced by a crushing national loss, many House Republicans saw their individual victories as mandates to carry on. A number of members represent districts so safe — both politically and demographically — that they don’t need to step out on immigration reform. Some surely fear potential primaries more than standing in the way of a deal: State legislatures across the country are dotted with ambitious Republicans who voted for Arizona-style immigration-enforcement laws over the past few years.
If House Republicans demand that the so-called Hastert Rule prevail – meaning that Speaker John Boehner can't bring a bill to the floor without the support of a majority of Republicans – they could successfully block the effort, regardless of any heat they might take from leadership or the Washington Post's editorial page.
Meanwhile, the knives are already coming out for Marco Rubio, who may well be risking his shot at the GOP presidential nomination with this effort (John McCain was forced to abandon his own reform proposals during the 2008 primaries). On Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh, who said a day earlier that it would be “up to me and Fox News” to kill the latest reform effort, basically accused Rubio of shilling for Democrats. In response, Rubio “made clear his willingness to blow up talks if he thinks a bill is moving too far to the left,” according to Talking-Points Memo.
Which brings us to the policy issues. The problem may well be that the bill starts out too far to the right to achieve its stated goals. Obama's proposals appear to concede with a number of conservative talking-points about immigration. It focuses on “enforcement first,” and promises to beef up border security before allowing migrants to begin the process at “the back of the line.”