Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Immigration Trap

There has been a lot of whaling and gnashing of teeth by Republicans over the President's executive order last week regarding immigration policy.  Cries of "amnesty!" have been flying around to get the conservative base riled up, and by all accounts it's working.  Proposed responses from Republicans range from shutting down the government, stopping implementation of the executive order through budget restrictions, to the ever present threat of legal action up to and including threats of impeachment.

The real question is would any of those responses work without giving the President exactly what he wants - relevance.

Make no mistake about it, the last round if elections dealt a damaging blow to President Obama and the Democratic Party across the board.  There is now little-to-no chance the Democrats regain the US House until after the next Census, and even that would depend on a wave election in 2020 comparable to the Tea Party wave of 2010 to give Democrats more control over redistricting.  The US Senate is not that much better for the Democrats either.  This article from lays it out.  Basically, with the Conservative Democrat being a dying breed and with there being 25 dependably Red states and only 11 dependably Blue states, the polarization of the electorate and the design of the Senate will conspire against the Democrats in the future.

With that type of reality staring down on the President and his party, what is the best thing for him to do to remain relevant?  Drag the Republicans into a nasty fight over a hot button issue like immigration and hope they overreach.

If Republicans want to avoid that and actually accomplish something, the path forward is relatively simple.  However, it would require the type of political courage the Republican Party leadership has not shown in the past, and there is probably little reason to expect it now.

Here's the simple two step plan.

1.  Each and every Republican candidate for President in 2016 needs to clearly state that on day one of their presidency, the executive order signed by Obama will be repealed and enforcement will begin.

2.  Rather than attempting to attack the legality of the President's executive order, Republicans should accept the legal underpinnings of it and then use that same logic to force its undoing.

Here is why this would work.  It is doable, and it is doable quickly.

Each Republican presidential candidate can unequivocally state their intentions to undo President Obama's executive order, and the mere possibility of a Republican win in 2016 which might undo any programs that start from Obama's order would certainly slow down its implementation and acceptance.

The new Congress could quickly pass a bill that would go to the heart of the legal argument behind Obama's executive order.  All they have to do is pass a clean budget bill using reconciliation in the Senate if necessary to double the funding/capacity of the existing immigration enforcement system.

The logic behin the President's order is this.

As long as the immigration enforcement machinery is operating at capacity, the President is within his authority to prioritize who will be pursued for deportation.  The system currently can only process about 400,000 deportations a year. The administration's stance is that they have been hitting that number for the past few years, so now they are simply defining a large category of people they won't pursue.  This is legal as long as the system continues to operate at capacity.

Republicans should fund doubling the system's capacity in a clean budget bill.  Send it to President Obama and let him veto it if he wants.  At the minimum it exposes his action for what it really is - a backdoor amnesty.  It also would shoot a giant hole in the legal basis for his action that might undo it.  If he signs it, the Republicans would get what they "say" they have wanted all along - tougher enforcement.

But that takes us back to the political courage issue with Republican leadership.  No serious person could believe they truly want tougher immigration enforcement.  They have had chances before and done nothing.  There is simply to much campaign money flowing from organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce which enjoys the cheap labor lax immigration enforcement allows to believe Republican leadership would ever bite the hand that feeds it.

And that may actually be the biggest problem with ever achieving true and effective immigration reform.

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