BACK FROM THE DEAD: Will Boehner resurrect Obama’s campaign for more immigration?

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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House Speaker John Boehner is signaling that he may be preparing to push for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.

He’s just hired an immigration expert who used to work for Sen. John McCain, the chief GOP advocate behind the 2007 and 2013 campaigns to increase immigration.

Advocates for increased immigration applauded Boehner’s decision to hire Becky Tallent, who was working at the business-funded Bipartisan Policy Center to boost immigration rates.

Many White House officials, business lobbyists and progressive advocates had almost given up hope of getting Boehner’s backing for the immigration bill that the Senate passed in June.

If backed by Boehner, the Senate bill would get likely get majority support in the House, because nearly all Democratic legislators have promised to back it.

The bill provides a staged amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants, and could double the influx of legal, Democratic-leaning immigrants during the next decade.

But Boehner’s true purpose is unclear, said Mark Krikorian, the director or the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants to reduce immigration.

“Boehner may be really committed to trying to get a bill through the House,” sometime in 2014 to please the GOP’s business donors, Krikorian said.

But, Krikorian added, Boehner actually may be trying to mollify business groups while continuing to block the Senate bill.

“It is not impossible that he hired Tallent to placate the business lobbyists,” Krikorian said. Once Tallent tries and fails to rally GOP legislators to back the unpopular immigration-boosting bill, Boehner can tell his donors that he gave it his best shot, said Krikorian.

Groups that wish to sharply reduce immigration rates, such as NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, sounded the alarm.

Tallent believes that the inflow of immigrants “should be regulated only by the desire of people from other countries who want to work here and the desire of American businesses to employ them, without regard for the impact on American workers and taxpayers,” said a statement from FAIR.

The FAIR statement cited a comment made by Tallent in a March CSPAN interview. “The best things we can do for our border security is to have a realistic guest worker program that reflects the number of people who want to come every year,” she said.

Numerous polls show that the increased inflow of workers is unpopular among grassroots GOP supporters, among swing voters and among the lower-income workers who are being wooed by top GOP legislators.

Polls by progressive and business groups show conditional public support for an amnesty, but do not mention the public’s opposition to additional immigrant workers.

Many Republican legislators oppose the bill because they say it would worsen the job market for Americans, reduce high-tech investment, and increase dependency on government.

But the bill is strongly supported by many Republican-leaning donors, and by many companies who would gain millions of new customers and lower-wage workers. Some GOP politicians, notably Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, have endorsed large scale immigration.

The bill is being backed by President Barack Obama, and his aides describe its enactment as his top second-term legislative goal.

If enacted, the Senate bill could transfer roughly eight House seats into regions populated by Democratic-leaning immigrants by 2030, and would add several million Democratic-leaning voters after 2020 and 2026.

Boehner’s decision was applauded by progressive groups, and by some libertarian activists.

“Tallent’s hiring is another sign, in addition to multiple statements by the speaker, that immigration reform is alive and kicking,” said Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post blogger.

The hiring “suggests there has been some reconsideration in GOP ranks as to the desirability of at least passing a House version of immigration reform. That is a remarkable turnaround from a few months ago when the conventional wisdom proclaimed immigration reform dead,” said Rubin, a former labor lawyer.

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