A year ago, fresh off a national drubbing at the ballot box, Republicans talked about the need to reach out to Latino voters. But talk hasn’t turned into action, and it looks as if immigration reform will slip away once again in Congress.
U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, a respected voice on immigration in the House Republican caucus, recently said that it’s fruitless to press for reform this year. He’s now advocating a piecemeal approach. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a key vote in getting an immigration reform bill through the Senate, has reverted to that position too. So much for the hope that a hard-line stance would soften and the wishes of Latino voters would be heard.
This is bad news for the U.S. economy, especially in states like Washington and Idaho that depend upon immigrant labor.
Labrador says the atmosphere in Washington, D.C., is poisoned by the recent government shutdown and the debt ceiling battle, but that was entirely predictable. Earlier this year, Labrador himself warned that reform needed to proceed before those autumn battles began. Congressional leaders also knew they had scheduled extensive recess time in August and September.
This notion that our representatives can only address a few issues at a time is unique to the 113th Congress. There was a time when dozens of committees would work on bills and then send them to the floor for votes. Gov.track.us, an online site, bears this out.
Since Jan. 3, this Congress has passed 47 laws and taken 189 votes on 6,012 bills and resolutions. The previous Congress took up twice as many bills and resolutions and enacted six times as many laws. The 110th Congress (2007-09) passed 10 times as many laws.
The new “governing” theme appears to be this: Don’t pursue any issue that requires compromise and hard work. This is reflected in the fact that President Barack Obama has vetoed a grand total of two bills the entire time he’s been in office. Controversial measures just don’t get that far anymore.
Labrador’s announcement came after business and agricultural interests stepped up pressure on Congress. He responded, “It’s not easy legislation. Obviously we haven’t fixed the immigration system in 30 years for a reason.”
The reason is the laserlike focus on border security and antipathy toward any path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. The Senate bill, which passed in April, ramps up border security considerably, and the citizenship provisions belie the cries of “amnesty.”
Illegal immigrants would be put through a long process that could take up to 12 years, and includes penalties and taxes. In exchange, they could emerge from the shadows and become more productive, taxpaying citizens while keeping their families together. And, crucially, they could continue in jobs that American employers would otherwise have difficulty filling.
But rather than write their own bill and hammer out a compromise with the Senate, House Republicans are once again claiming nothing can be done. It’s a tiresome tactic that makes us wonder why they’re collecting a paycheck.