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The House GOP’s Immigration Principles: A Good Start, But Can They Get Past The Tea Party?

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Immigration reform has been stalled in the House of Representatives since the day that the Senate passed its version of comprehensive immigration reform in no small part because there has been a rather obvious an open conflict over the issue between various wings of the Republican Party. On one side, you have a group that consists of moderate Republicans, more mainline traditional conservatives, the business community, and even many religious groups who said publicly all year that they support the idea of reforming the nation’s immigration laws and dealing with issues such as the children of people here illegally as well as the overall issue of how to deal with the 11 to 12 million people here illegally, many of whom have been here for decades. On the other side, there are the hard core conservatives and Tea Party members who oppose anything that smells like what they call “amnesty” and who believe either that the only immigration reform necessary is increased border security and deportation, or at least that no other form of reform should be allowed to go into effect until the border, specifically the southern border of course, is “secure,” whatever that means. Overriding the entire discussion, of course, is the fact that the GOP has seen itself fall to new lows among Latino voters in election after election over the past eight years, and that the party’s position on immigration-related issues is cited by Latinos as the primary reason for that decline, a fact pointed out repeatedly after the 2012 election by both former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a sponsor of the Senate bill.

It’s against this backdrop that, yesterday, the House GOP leadership came out with a set of principles regarding immigration reform that, while not perfect, at least seem to advance the debate further in that body than many thought possible:

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio released his long-awaited immigration overhaul principles Thursday afternoon, for the first time laying out a broad GOP-backed pathway to legalized status for undocumented immigrants.

Boehner and other top Republicans have been talking about it for months, but the document lays out a draft for how Republicans want to take on the contentious issue, which is splitting their party at their annual retreat here. The party will discuss and potentially amend the document, and it is possible that it will not be accepted at all.

The principles stress interior and border enforcement must be enacted before mechanisms to legalization can begin and notes that Republicans do not favor a “special pathway” to citizenship for anyone who illegally traversed the border into the United States. However, it does present options for those roughly 11 million immigrants living in the country.

“These persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits),” the document states. “Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program.”

The plan also includes measures that would address visas, employment verification, changes to the current legal immigration system and provide “an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own.”

A GOP aide contrasted this piece-by-piece style with the Senate’s immigration bill, which was more than 1,200 pages long, and emphasized that leaders intend to make sure members and constituents understand each step of the immigration process before moving on to the next principle.

Boehner himself made the pitch to his conference to act, according to a source in the room.

“It’s important to act on immigration reform because we’re focused on jobs and economic growth, and this about jobs and growth,” he told his flock. “Reform is also about our national security. The safety and security of our nation depends on our ability to secure our border, enforce our laws, improve channels for legal entry to the country, and identify who is here illegally.”

Allahpundit has the text of the principles:

Standards for Immigration Reform

PREAMBLE
Our nation’s immigration system is broken and our laws are not being enforced. Washington’s failure to fix them is hurting our economy and jeopardizing our national security. The overriding purpose of our immigration system is to promote and further America’s national interests and that is not the case today. The serious problems in our immigration system must be solved, and we are committed to working in a bipartisan manner to solve them. But they cannot be solved with a single, massive piece of legislation that few have read and even fewer understand, and therefore, we will not go to a conference with the Senate’s immigration bill. The problems in our immigration system must be solved through a step-by-step, common-sense approach that starts with securing our country’s borders, enforcing our laws, and implementing robust enforcement measures. These are the principals guiding us in that effort.

Border Security and Interior Enforcement Must Come First
It is the fundamental duty of any government to secure its borders, and the United States is failing in this mission. We must secure our borders now and verify that they are secure. In addition, we must ensure now that when immigration reform is enacted, there will be a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future. Faced with a consistent pattern of administrations of both parties only selectively enforcing our nation’s immigration laws, we must enact reform that ensures that a President cannot unilaterally stop immigration enforcement.

Implement Entry-Exit Visa Tracking System
A fully functioning Entry-Exit system has been mandated by eight separate statutes over the last 17 years. At least three of these laws call for this system to be biometric, using technology to verify identity and prevent fraud. We must implement this system so we can identify and track down visitors who abuse our laws.

Employment Verification and Workplace Enforcement
In the 21st century it is unacceptable that the majority of employees have their work eligibility verified through a paper based system wrought with fraud. It is past time for this country to fully implement a workable electronic employment verification system.

Reforms to the Legal Immigration System
For far too long, the United States has emphasized extended family members and pure luck over employment-based immigration. This is inconsistent with nearly every other developed country. Every year thousands of foreign nationals pursue degrees at America’s colleges and universities, particularly in high skilled fields. Many of them want to use their expertise in U.S. industries that will spur economic growth and create jobs for Americans. When visas aren’t available, we end up exporting this labor and ingenuity to other countries. Visa and green card allocations need to reflect the needs of employers and the desire for these exceptional individuals to help grow our economy.

The goal of any temporary worker program should be to address the economic needs of the country and to strengthen our national security by allowing for realistic, enforceable, usable, legal paths for entry into the United States. Of particular concern are the needs of the agricultural industry, among others. It is imperative that these temporary workers are able to meet the economic needs of the country and do not displace or disadvantage American workers.

Youth
One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, those who know no other place as home. For those who meet certain eligibility standards, and serve honorably in our military or attain a college degree, we will do just that.

Individuals Living Outside the Rule of Law
Our national and economic security depend on requiring people who are living and working here illegally to come forward and get right with the law. There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws – that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law. Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program. Finally, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.

These principles have yet to be crafted into legislation, of course, and that legislation has yet to even be considered by a House Committee, not to mention voted on in the House, so it may be premature to discuss this proposal in detail. However, the principles themselves at least seem to be a step in the right direction. Although not noted in the portion excerpted above, the principles would provide a mechanism for so-called “Dreamers” — adults of a certain age who were brought to the United States by their parents when they were children — to obtain legal status and eventual citizenship provided that they do not have violent criminal records. With regard to those who don’t qualify for those benefits, there would at least be a mechanism for them to obtain legal status after payment of fines and passing other criteria such as demonstrating proficiency in English. There are similar provisions in the Senate bill, of course, but the House bill differs from the Senate bill in that it would not permit the vast majority of these “non-Dreamer” illegal immigrants to ever apply for citizenship. Presumably, this is meant to be a sop of some kind to the anti-”amnesty” crowd in the GOP that objects to the idea of people who are here illegally ever becoming citizens and thereby eligible to vote and obtain the other benefits of citizenship. In essence, then, the House bill would create a new group of legalized immigrants who would be legally permitted to work here and not be subject to deportation, but who would differ from other “green card” holders in that they could never apply for citizenship, even if they did something like marry an American citizen that would ordinarily allow someone to qualify for citizenship.

As I’ve noted before, there are several public policy objections to some of the ideas that are expressed in the GOP principles. Putting broader immigration reform on hold until some amorphous level of “border security” is achieved strikes me as just a way of giving the opponents of any kind of reform a veto over allowing reform to proceed at all as long as they have enough votes in Congress, for example. Additionally, the idea of creating an entire class of non-citizen resident aliens who would be ineligible for citizenship is, as Columbia University Professor Mae M. Ngai notes in today’s New York Times, dangerously close to repeating the kind of race and ethnicity based exclusion policies that dominated American immigration law in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. While I can understand the idea that people who came here illegally should have to “go to the back of the line” in the citizenship lottery so that they don’t unfairly receive advantages over those who immigrated here legally and followed the rules scrupulously, there doesn’t seem to me to be any rational or logical reason why they shouldn’t eventually be allowed to apply for citizenship after spending some probationary time in resident alien status, paying appropriate fines and back taxes, and otherwise providing evidence that they deserve to eventually gain the benefits of citizenship.

That said, these principles strike me as being a good starting point for a House GOP that needs to carefully navigate the various political winds in its caucus in order to even see a bill on this issue make it to the floor. Indeed, there’s plenty in these principles that the anti “amnesty” crowd ought to like. Not surprisingly, though, even just the discussion of reform of the nation’s immigration laws is causing controversy on the right:

The House Republican leadership’s call on Thursday to provide legal status for 11 million undocumented workers, and possible citizenship for those brought to this country as children, caused sharp division within the party even as it provided a starting point for negotiations with Democrats on overhauling the nation’s immigration system.

Many Republicans rejected the one-page “standards for immigration reform” outright, and others said now was not the time for a legislative push on a number of contentious issues in an election year with trends going their way. Even their leader was cautious about where the issue will go from here.

(…)

A closed-door discussion on immigration at the retreat was described by a House member as “very passionate,” with a “sizable bloc” opposing the leadership’s position. Members took turns expressing their distrust of President Obama and Senate Democrats as negotiating partners, and many of the Republicans said they were torn over whether to turn the principles into an actual legislative effort.

(…)

Conservative voices from the Heritage Foundation to William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, quickly denounced the proposal.

Other members looked for middle ground. Representative Patrick T. McHenry, Republican of North Carolina, said his party should unify around principles for reform, but he and others expressed grave doubts that the House could or should go further. “Unifying behind principles would be a very useful thing,” Mr. McHenry said. As for legislation, he added, “It’s very debatable about whether we do it now or later.”

Others weighing in on the leadership proposal include Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who proclaimed that the House GOP’s proposal threatens the party’s chances to retake the Senate in 2014. The conservative blogosphere seems to be reacting in much the same manner, if this piece by John Hinderaker is any indication:

The document concludes with a reference to “our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.” Really? Why “from here on”? This is a bad joke: this time, we really mean it! How about if instead, we start enforcing the laws we already have on the books, right now? No, the Republicans admit, that can’t be done. (“Our nation’s immigration system is broken and our laws are not being enforced.”) We have at least a 40-year history of our immigration laws not being enforced by Washington-or, rather, being selectively enforced so as to please favored special interests. Does anyone seriously believe that will change, going forward? No. President Obama has openly declared that he will enforce only those portions of immigration law that he and Eric Holder happen to agree with, in violation of his most basic constitutional duty. How dumb do these people think we are?

That is about as much energy as it is worthwhile to expend on today’s “standards.” The rubber will meet the road in the details of the legislation that is going to be written. In the meantime, I think everyone has a pretty good idea what is coming.

I’ve seen worse reaction from people on the right via Facebook and Twitter, so I think we can expect that the hard-right/Tea Party, which are essentially interchangeable terms at this point, to oppose whatever it is that the House leadership comes up with in terms of legislation, if they even end up doing so. At that point, the question will be whether Boehner, Cantor, et al will try to push the bill through notwithstanding the opposition of a substantial part of their own caucus.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Are Mexicans still brown? Then the Tea Party will oppose any and all immigration reform.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 2

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds: So true, the reality is a large portion of the the Republican base are still bigots.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  3. gVOR08 says:

    I’m seeing commentary that GOP leadership will push it, but they’ll wait until most of their members are safely through their primaries.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  4. stonetools says:

    The House GOP’s Immigration Principles: A Good Start, But Can They Get Past The Tea Party?

    Short answer: Nope.
    They certainly aren’t going to give the Obama Administration a victory in an election year, apart from their objection to letting in the browns.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  5. c.red says:

    It is a stall for time – “let’s look like we’re doing something without actually moving the conversation forward in any way”.

    Republican leadership is doing it’s best to move this to after the election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  6. Woody says:

    only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits)

    is the “moderate” Republican proposal; and is anathema to the hard right/tea party activists. The hard right calls the shots during primary season, so there will be nothing done other than to have the issue in “discussion” to provide cover for Republican candidates in districts with a significant Latino population.

    Long term: the GOP cannot afford to continue to alienate a large demographic.
    Short term: an individual Member cannot afford to be characterized as “soft on immigration” or there will be a hotly contested primary.

    Short term wins.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  7. john personna says:

    The problem is much older and wider than the Tea Party.

    Immigration was something GWB could not do. In fact, it was something that split him from his base. They took Medicare Part D from him, but immigration reform was too much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  8. Mu says:

    Let them register for a green card, but amend 8 USC 1427 to list “gained permanent residency as adult under “whatchamacallit great reform of 2014 ” to the permanent exclusions for naturalization. Puts everybody on a legal status, but keeps them as “deportable” in case of future crimes, and doesn’t flood the 2020 election with 10 M new voters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  9. wr says:

    @Mu: “Puts everybody on a legal status, but keeps them as “deportable” in case of future crimes, and doesn’t flood the 2020 election with 10 M new voters.”

    Yes, because nothing builds a stable society better than millions of legal residents who are subject to all the laws and taxes but are prohibited from any say in governance.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  10. Andre Kenji says:

    @john personna:

    They took Medicare Part D from him, but immigration reform was too much.

    “They” never had a problem with Medicare Part D, on the contrary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  11. grumpy realist says:

    Before we get obsessing about this, can we please first clean up the bloody effing immigration system we now have, which seems designed out of Kafka by a bureaucratic sadist?

    The reason people come here illegally is because it takes so bloody long to do it legally. I’m acting as guarantor at present for a charming Brazilian woman who makes a six-digit salary (more than I do) and has had to shell out thousands of dollars and months on end to jump through the correct hoops. I had to watch my boyfriend deal with the idiotic twits the New Jersey immigration office was staffed with–who couldn’t even answer over the phone whether they were already booked up that day or not, thus mandating a 30 mile drive to the office to go stand around in line just in the possibility that we might get serviced before 5 pm.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Anonne says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    “They” never had a problem with Medicare Part D, on the contrary.

    Who is the “they” that you’re talking about? If you mean the recipients of Part D, sure. But if you mean the Congressmen that hid to avoid voting? No. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/03/lessons_from_the_medicare_pres.html The one hiding on the floor to avoid search teams is hilariously sad. But true, most of them still went along with The Great Pander to Seniors of 2003.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: Actually, that would be part of the problem, because Common Law isn’t set up for a two-tiered system. We’d end up having a double system of law, depending on whether you were a legitimate American or one who was just “being here tolerated.”

    Thumbs down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Let them register for a green card, but amend 8 USC 1427 to list “gained permanent residency as adult under “whatchamacallit great reform of 2014 ” to the permanent exclusions for naturalization.

    So I guess we didn’t really mean that whole “taxation without representation” thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  15. PJ says:

    @michael reynolds:

    So I guess we didn’t really mean that whole “taxation without representation” thing.

    Well, slave states in the South still had both.
    It helps to understand Mu’s argument is you see it as a new modern, more acceptable, form of slavery. 2.0 if you wish. Look at the rights of South Asian migrant workers in the Middle East.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds: Jim Crow didn’t die, he just took a nap.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. grumpy realist says:

    There’s supposedly also a heck of a lot of Eastern Europeans and Irish running around with expired visas–funny how no one on the far right is squawking about them. It all boils down to the Latinos. And only the Latinos.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  18. Mu says:

    wr, I would argue that 10 M legal residents stabilize the society more than 10 M illegals. And sorry, having spend 12 years and $20,000 on the process, I’m not going to cheer for a free ride. Even handing out green cards requires an amnesty for pretty much every rule that governs immigration, from having a good reason to never been in trouble with the law to no immigration violations. I think that’s a pretty big chunk of foregiveness already.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  19. Mu says:

    It helps to understand Mu’s argument is you see it as a new modern, more acceptable, form of slavery. 2.0 if you wish

    Oh, welcome me to the CSU 2.0. And there most people would claim I’m more of a socialist than your typical slave holder. I might have to review my career choices.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Mu:

    Yes, well, we don’t set aside either practicality or our core principles because you had a bad time immigrating and are (justifiably) irritated. We cannot deport 10 million people, nor can we have a 10 million person permanent underclass that pays taxes and has no vote.

    We have a right to control our borders, and our objective in so doing should be to protect American workers. I would set up a verification system (really not that hard) for new employees, I’d have very heavy sanctions on employers who hire illegals, I’d set up something like the old bracero program to deal with the specific needs of agriculture, and then I’d let illegals already in-country work toward citizenship.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  21. James Pearce says:

    It is a start but an inadequate one. A path to citizenship is kind of necessary to make this thing workable. The “resident alien” thing is rife with long-term complications.

    Also, proficiency in English. That really needs to be amended to say “proficiency in English or Spanish.” Both languages are the common tongue of this country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  22. Andre Kenji says:

    @Anonne: I´m talking about the Tea Party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Steve says:

    HAS IT BEEN 50 YEARS?
    Has it really been 50 Years? The Beatles – Ed Sullivan Show (1964) (All 3 shows)

    http://commoncts.blogspot.com/2014/01/has-it-really-been-50-years-beatles-ed.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  24. Andre Kenji says:

    Unless there is some kind of ID system and unless there is tougher labor legislation(Probably requiring employers to register with the government any hire) “protecting borders” is basically useless.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. ernieyball says:

    @Steve: HAS IT BEEN 50 YEARS?

    Count ‘em…50 years ago…
    The Good-Beatles
    The Bad-President John Kennedy shot dead.
    The Ugly-Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. Tyrell says:

    @grumpy realist: Here are some observations. Most of the immigrants come here for better jobs (“a job, not a handout”), most of the immigrants obey the law ( except the border law ), and don’t go around stirring up trouble, they have a strong family structure and traditional values, most are faithful Christians and are involved in the Christian church. These people are good citizens.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. superdestroyer says:

    @grumpy realist:

    There are somewhere between 100 million and 300 million people who want to immigrate to the U.S. How many of them would allow to immigrate with your simplified system? How many would you keep out? How do progressives reconcile their desire to lower green house gas emissions in the U.S. and increase the wages of blue collar and middle class Americans with their desire to open the borders of the U.S. and make it easy for millions of people to move here?

    Everyone in the U.S. would be better off if all politicians would just become consistent in their policy proposals. If global climate change is super important and needs to be addressed know, then the U.S. would put an end to immigrantion for the foreseeable future. If riaisng the wages of Americans and increasing the workforce participation rate, then immigraiton would have already ended.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. superdestroyer says:

    @Tyrell:

    20% of the men in state prisons in California are illegal aliens. In Texas, the sticker for licenses plates was moved from the rear license plate to inside the windows because illegal aliens were stealing them. I doubt if many of the illegal aliens have a legitimate drivers license or comply with tax laws.

    Over 50% of latino children are born to single mothers, are on AFDC at a much higher rate than whites and do not attend church at a higher rate than whites.

    Virtually every city in Texas, Arizona, or California that is majority Latino does not support your idea that illegal aliens will make good citizens. However, the data does show that they will be will be very loyal Democratic party voters (when they do vote). On the other hand, illegal aliens do increase the demand for law enforcement, social services, and remedial education that will increase the demand for public sector employees and thus, more automatic Democratic Party voters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  29. al-Ameda says:

    Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).

    This a new version of Indentured Servitude. The GOP wants these people to leave the country, and they just don’t want directly say (at least, not before the 2014 mid-term elections) that actually want to round them up and deport from.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  30. Latino_in_Boston says:

    Shorter GOP:

    You’ll always be second citizens! (if we have anything to say about it).

    You can imagine what the reaction from immigrants will be, but from the tea party it’s: why are they getting any kind of citizenship, second or third or fourth? Deport them all.

    This of course is the delicious corner they have painted themselves into. Karma is a bitch, my friends.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  31. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Mu: So because you had a piss-poor experience, everyone else must as well?

    I’m simply saying that the present process is expensive, infuriating, and creates the problem of illegal immigrants. It could definitely be done better.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0