Obama expected to pressure American Legion to allow amnesty bill
President Barack Obama is meeting Friday with the head of the American Legion, in what amnesty opponents fear is a yet another effort to bypass public opposition to passage of a massive business-backed immigration increase.
House Speaker John Boehner also added to the alarms Thursday night, when the Wall Street Journal reported that he told business donors gathered last month in Las Vegas that he is “hellbent on getting this done.”
The American Legion is suddenly a player in the immigration fight because it has come out in opposition to a minor, but critical amendment to the draft 2015 defense bill. The amendment would broaden the existing rules allowing illegal immigrants to get slots in the U.S. military that are sought by American volunteers.
If the amendment is added to the bill, and then passed by the full House, it would allow the Senate and House to include a large immigration rewrite in the must-pass defense bill.
That immigration rewrite could consist of a small amnesty for younger illegals, or a copy of the Senate’s June 2013 bill, which would triple the inflow of legal immigrants and guest workers to 40 million over the next decade. That huge inflow is roughly equal to the number of Americans youths who will join the workforce by 2024 in search of decent jobs.
The amendment maneuver would allow top GOP leaders to push an immigration bill past their caucus.
Most of the GOP caucus is opposed to the Senate’s immigration bill, which would likely worsen job-competition against their constituents and also increase the political power of the Democrat-leaning Latino electorate.
The opposition is also visible in the Senate, where Sen. Jeff Sessions has argued the GOP will gain from a low-immigration, high-wage policy.
Many aspects of the Senate bill — especially the increased inflow of guest-workers — are unpopular among GOP supporters and swing voters, whom the party needs to vote in November. However, the bill is popular among progressives and wealthy voters.
The amendment is dubbed the ENLIST Act, and is being sponsored by GOP Rep. Jeff Denham, who represents a farm district in California. Agricultural employers are strong backers of immigration increases, because they prefer to hire cheap migrant workers instead of investing in new crop-picking machinery.
In turn, Denham’s amendment is reportedly backed by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, despite growing pressure on immigration from a primary opponent in his Virginia district.
So far, the amendment has been locked up in disputes among GOP legislators, and it was apparently blocked this week when the American Legion announced its opposition.
“Attaching an issue as contentious and complex as immigration and recruitment policy would only stall the” defense bill, John Stovall, director of the Legion’s national security division told The Washington Times. “The legion’s long-standing policy remains that we are opposed to any policy, any legislative action that amounts to amnesty, and I think that would fall under that definition.”
That’s a big problem for Obama and the advocates of more immigration, Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told The Daily Caller. “If the American Legion is saying it is bad, they can either persuade them or bad-mouth the legion,” Krikorian said. “I don’t think they be able to browbeat them.”
The legion is resistant to political pressure because its policies are strongly shaped by its individual members, not just by top leaders. The group is also insulated from a lot of D.C. influence because it is based in Indianapolis, Ind. — not in D.C., he added.
During the previous business-backed push for increased immigration, in 2006 and 2007, the legion announced its opposition, and was lashed by groups that favor more more immigration, he said. “They tried to intimidate them and the legion told them basically to get lost [but] it may not work that way this time,” he said.
“I can’t imagine that the Legion would cave,” Roy Beck, the director of NumbersUSA, an immigration reform group that seeks lower immigration levels, told TheDC.
The White House’s daily calendar shows the president will meet the American Legion’s head, Daniel Dellinger, in the Oval Office at 11:35 a.m.
“The President will meet with the National Commander and Executive Director of the American Legion. This meeting is closed press,” the White House schedule reads.
On Thursday, Obama said he and Cantor are in agreement on the need for an major immigration rewrite.
The two talked by phone this Wednesday. Even though Cantor criticized Obama’s immigration-enforcement policies the next day, “it was a pretty friendly conversation,” Obama told reporters Thursday.
“I also know it’s hard politics for Republicans because there are some in their base that are very opposed to this … [but] there are [foreign] families all across the country who are experiencing great hardship and pain because this is not getting resolved,” Obama said.
“It’s a matter of political will. It’s not any longer a matter of policy. And I’m going to continue to encourage them to get this done,” he insisted.
Boehner’s renewed commitment to passage of a foreign-worker bill was revealed late Thursday by the Wall Street Journal.
“Speaker John Boehner and other senior House Republicans are telling donors and industry groups that they aim to pass immigration legislation this year, despite the reluctance of many Republicans to tackle the divisive issue before the November elections,” the journal reported.
“Many lawmakers and activists have assumed the issue was off the table in an election year. But Mr. Boehner said at a Las Vegas fundraiser last month he was ‘hellbent on getting this done.'”
The public is strongly opposed to increased immigration, partly because wages are at a 63-year record low share of annual income, profits are at a 85-year record high of annual income, and the middle-class is shrinking fast.
Last June, the CBO reported that the Senate bill would shift even more of the nation’s annual income away from wages earners and toward investors.
Follow Neil on Twitter