Two months ago, the prospects for immigration reform looked promising, but that’s looking like an April Fool’s joke.
Bipartisan groups in the House and Senate were working on legislation that would stiffen border security while laying out a lengthy path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. That path – reflexively dubbed “amnesty” by opponents – would carry fines, penalties and other restrictions in exchange for provisional status that would bring people out of the shadows. Illegal immigrants would be given safe harbor while waiting more than a decade for full citizenship, provided they didn’t break laws or the rules. In the meantime, they’d be paying taxes and would generally contribute to the economy. Plus, they could keep their families together.
It was a compromise with elements both parties didn’t like, but the view was that reform was better than the status quo. But opponents have raised the bar on border security to such ridiculous heights it’s clear that killing reform is the real goal.
Just look at the amendment the Senate passed on Monday. In the hopes of attracting more votes, Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., wrote a provision that would militarize the southern border. About 19,000 border security personnel would be added, and the border fence would be lengthened from 350 miles to 700 miles. The use of drones and other high-tech surveillance would be expanded.
Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain have embraced reform. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who has fought the feds on immigration, supported the amendment. These are politicians who have a direct interest in border security. Still, congressional critics such as Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., say it isn’t enough. Nonetheless, the Senate adopted the amendment with a 67-27 vote that indicates overall Senate support for immigration reform.
The House, however, is expected to drag the issue out all summer. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who was seen as a key player in bringing skeptics on board, walked away from the House’s bipartisan talks. He now says he will write his own legislation.
The longer this reform is delayed, the less likely it is to pass. September promises to bring another round of debate on the debt ceiling, which would probably push aside the immigration issue. That would be unfortunate because the current system is dysfunctional, alternately flashing “Help Wanted” and “Keep Out” signs.
Reformers got a boost when the Congressional Budget Office recently concluded the Senate bill would boost the economy and lower the budget deficit during the next two decades. It would be a boon to Washington state.
But the same intransigence that killed the Farm Bill and has gummed up budget talks appears to be dragging down this effort, too. It’s become a running joke that Congress can’t get anything done, but it just isn’t funny. The House needs to get busy with reform or cross over to the Senate plan.