ANALYSIS: Boehner’s mysterious immigration comments

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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House Speaker John Boehner said something Thursday about President Barack Obama’s top legislative goal for 2014, immigration reform.

Boehner’s language was simple and his enunciation was clear, yet nobody outside his inner circle knows if his words are meant to help or hinder Obama’s goal of boosting the inflow of immigrants.

That doubt exists because Boehner is facing contradictory pressure from the two halves of his party — the business groups who donate vital funding and want more immigrants, and conservative House members and voters.

So Boehner may be zig-zagging between the business groups that want to increase immigration and the various conservative and populist groups that want to decrease immigration.

Or he may be hiding his plans to slowly push one group toward victory.

Only he and his close advisers know the answer.

Here are his words at his press briefing early Thursday.

“This is an important issue in our country. It’s been kicked around forever, and it needs to be dealt with,” he said. But “frankly, one of the biggest obstacles we face is the one of trust. The American people, including many of our members, don’t trust that the reform we’re talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be. The president seems to change the health-care law on a whim, whenever he likes.”

“There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws,” he continued. “It’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

The confusion about Boehner’s words were highlighted by a tweet from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which wants to reduce the annual inflow of one million immigrants and 650,000 non-agricultural guest workers.

“Boehner hits brakes on immigration overhaul – or more smoke & mirrors to hide backroom deals?” the tweet reads.

A Hill staffer told The Daily Caller that he expects Boehner and the business groups to focus opponents on the issue of trust — and then suddenly disarm them with a dramatic but meaningless announcement by the president. That announcement could be the appointment of a business-backed GOP legislator to run the Department of Homeland Security, the staffer said. Opponents need to focus their opposition on the harm that increased immigration does to American adults and kids who will need well-paying jobs to eventually raise their own families, he added.

One reformer said Boehner’s speech revealed that he’s like to award some form of amnesty before ensuring that the next wave of illegals can’t fund work with cheating employers.

“Speaker Boehner outed his and the Senate immigration plan as legalization first — if enforcement were first, he wouldn’t have to trust Obama,” said a statement from Roy Beck, director of NumbersUSA, which wants to reduce the immigration inflow.

“Polls repeatedly show that Americans, regardless of who is president, don’t want legalization even considered until enforcement is fully implemented,” he said. Congress should start by insisting Mr. Obama is enforcing the immigration laws that already are on the books.”

Several journalists dismissed Boehner’s statement as an effort to fool conservatives.

“Boehner’s tough talk doesn’t mean immigration reform’s dead btw. This is probably how he needs to frame it in any successful scenario,” said Benjy Sarlin, a political reporter at MSNBC.

“Please. When Boehner says ‘can’t trust Obama on immigration,’ he’s just telling conservatives what they want to hear. Transparent,” tweeted Greg Sargent, a blogger for The Washington Post.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Boeher was simply “cooling things off.”

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the top-level Democrat who pushed an immigration bill through the Senate last June, also downplayed Boehner’s statement. “I’m not thrown back by it,” he said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney responded to Boehner’s comments hopefully.

“Nothing this comprehensive ever comes fast or easy in Washington, so this won’t be any different, but it remains an absolute fact that we’ve made enormous progress in building that consensus,” he said.

**That’s a reference to the Senate bill, which was passed by all Democratic senators and one third of the GOP caucus, last June. If made law, the Senate bill would increase legal immigration to 30 million over the next 10 years, and double the annual inflow of university and blue-collar guest workers above one million.

Carney also rejected a reporter’s suggestion that the president might use his control over the federal agencies to not enforce immigration law.

“There is no alternative to comprehensive immigration reform passing through Congress,” he said. “It requires legislation and the president has made that clear in the past, and it continues to be his view.”

In June 2012, Obama used his executive power to stop deportations of young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally. Since then, he’s given work permits to more than 400,000 young illegal immigrants — and won roughly 70 percent of the Latino vote in the 2012 election.

Also, Obama’s administration deported only 0.2 percent of the roughly 11.7 million illegals in the country in 2012.

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