Monday, March 2, 2015

Getting Out of the Immigration Quagmire

The number of Republican self-inflicted wounds over the issue of immigration keeps growing. At this pace, it may be warranted to set up a clock - much like the US National Debt Clock - to track them. Last Friday, just hours before funding for the Department of Homeland Security was about to run out, Republicans were able to postpone the eventual capitulation for a week. A foreseeable outcome from the moment that Mitch McConnell announced he would not shut the government down.

McConnell had the best of intentions in declaring that he would avoid shutdowns or playing games with the debt ceiling. He wanted to demonstrate to the American people that the Republican Party was ready, willing and able to govern. However, if McConnell is unwilling to use the power of the purse, why get into a confrontation with the White House over DHS funding? The best way to avoid having to get out of a box is not to get in it in the first place.

Once again Republicans have given more fodder to the Democrats to portray them as anti-Latino, cruel, spiteful by targeting the Dreamers. Once again, Republicans angered their base by first promising to stop Obama’s executive action and folding in the end. Once again, the GOP looks incompetent as its Congressional leaders argue in public. Once again, the GOP demonstrates that it is rhetorically challenged and allowed the Democrats to advance the narrative that Republicans are jeopardizing national security at a time when ISIS’ atrocities dominate the news. Not bad for a couple of months’ work.

To find its way out of the immigration quagmire, the GOP needs to fundamentally change its strategy. Thus far, much of the GOP’s internal debate on immigration has been about amnesty. Whether to grant it or not, what constitutes amnesty, whether it will incentivize future illegal immigration. The latter is a particularly legitimate concern since the last amnesty certainly did not prevent future illegal immigration as promised. At the time of the Reagan amnesty there were 3 million illegal immigrants while today there are an estimated 12 million of them.

Focusing on preventing amnesty has been a complete failure as a strategy. We will not deport millions of people. Even the opponents of amnesty acknowledge it. However, they have latched on to the illusion that millions will self-deport if the so called “magnets” are removed without realizing that the making the situation so miserable that illegal immigrants will choose to leave en masse is even more unrealistic than mass deportations. Insisting on unrealistic goals will only ensure more blunders, more self-inflicted wounds and de facto amnesty.

The GOP should shift its focus on implementing measures that will prevent future illegal immigration. Had the GOP focused on preventing future illegal immigration instead of stopping Obama’s executive actions, they could have began the process of bringing our immigration system under the control. As a brief sideline, the frustration that many Republicans feel over what a court has ruled unconstitutional is understandable. However, we are talking about an executive action that can be revoked at any time. Frankly, it would be foolish for anyone to step out of the shadows to receive temporary legal status. If they are foolish, then they just made it very easy for ICE to find them, deport them should the next president choose to do so.

A better use of the political capital that Republicans are spending on defunding Obama’s executive action would have been to engage in some good ol’ fashion horse trading. Another brief sideline, compromise has acquired a negative connotation among GOP activists despite the fact that the Constitution they revere was the result of compromise and lots of it. Also, the myth of standing on principle as the only way to advance policies has yielded the political equivalent of Pickett’s charge for Republicans. To advance policies one must strategize and keep in mind that “politics are the art of the possible”.

Instead of attaching riders defunding Obama’s executive actions, the GOP should have added legislation stating that, in the future, anyone who enters the country illegally or overstays his or her visa will never be able to obtain permanent legal status or American citizenship. Add provisions that strip away the executive power to grant work permits; provisions that call for the immediate deportation of anyone who violates immigration laws and thus eliminate long administrative proceedings. Send a clear signal to the world that, going forward, anyone who wants to come to this country must do so through legal channels.

Republican could also use DHS funding to make E-Verify mandatory. If not mandatory, then require employers to verify legal status before they can deduct compensation paid from their taxes. Should  employers choose to use E-Verify they will be automatically deemed to have complied with the regulation. The GOP could add provisions that stiffen employer fines or even include jail time for those who repeatedly violate immigration laws.

As far as the Dreamers, we are dealing with individuals who came as children, grew up in this country and are American in every way except for their legal status. Every time the Republican Party has tried to impede giving Dreamers legal status, the media filled the screens with lovely young Valedictorians, speaking perfect American English, tearing up while Democrats rejoiced.

A better approach would be to give citizenship to Dreamers who have demonstrated that will be contributing members of society in exchange for changing immigration law so that only spouses and minor children can be sponsored. No longer would adult children be able to sponsor parent, thus addressing the concern of illegal immigrants coming to the USA to have children, and siblings would not be able to sponsor each other.

By focusing on preventing future illegal immigration and reforming the current system, Republicans will deprive Democrats of their favorite weapon: victims. Future illegal immigrants cannot be paraded in front of the cameras with tears streaming down their cheeks. Obama will not be able to make the argument that these individuals are already here and part of the fabric of out society.

If Obama vetoes the bill, let him explain why he doesn't want E-Verify, stiffer employer sanctions. Let him explain why he wants to allow employers to profit on the back of illegal immigrants. Let Obama explain why he doesn’t want to stop illegal immigrants from coming into our country and living in the shadows.