As usual, the trendy group-think narrative in Washington is that House Speaker John Boehner is singlehandedly blocking immigration reform by not committing to a vote anytime soon.
It’s easy to see why Democrats are frustrated. They thought that Boehner had finally broken through the conservative obstacle, known as the U.S. House of Representatives, when he released his caucus’ principles for immigration reform last week.
The document, they noted, does not explicitly endorse a pathway to full citizenship for the estimated 11-to-12 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally (the real number is likely much higher). But, they said, it amounts to serious progress from 2012, when the GOP’s idea of immigration reform was “self-deportation.”
As everyone should know by now, President Obama’s position is that the House should simply pass the Senate bill, which features an opportunity for undocumented immigrants to become Americans as long as they meet a series of pre-conditions and wait a decade or so. Boehner’s framework essentially is the Senate bill — more border security, more guest workers, more high-skilled visas, more money for technology to track immigrants who come and go — but with a slightly less rewarding finish line for those who don’t qualify for the DREAM Act.
Therefore, although Obama has yet to flat-out dismiss the proposal, the White House is assuring its base that it doesn’t satisfy the president’s requirements for legislation.
But in reality, it might, and the White House might want to give it another look.
As ardent immigration reform critic Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) points out, the Boehner plan does, indeed, include a special pathway to citizenship. For starters, it would afford citizenship to millions of so-called DREAMers who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or teenagers. To date, 14 states, including New Jersey, which is run by the guy who has an outside shot at becoming the Republican standard-bearer in 2016, have adopted versions of the DREAM Act.
If nothing else, the House framework could be viewed as an effort to get everyone on the same page before the elections, unlike what happened back in 2012 when Republicans were all over the map on the issue.
Sessions’ other argument is somewhat more abstract, but one that Democrats should pay attention to. It goes something like this. If Congress somehow teamed up this year to pass a bill that allowed immigrants to receive legal permanent residency (LPR), otherwise known as a green card, and Obama signed it into law, then Democrats and all their special interest allies would immediately begin phase two of the battle; a push for full citizenship.
They’d argue that while LPR eliminates the threat many immigrants face of being deported, it simultaneously makes them second-class human beings who exist in a sort of political purgatory whereby they don’t have equal rights as their peers who happened to be born in the U.S.A.
Sure, Republicans would put up a valiant fight. But Sessions believes that the momentum on the Democratic side would eventually be too much to overcome. And unless they win complete control of Congress, Republicans would be unable to stave off the immense lobbying pressure.
That potential scenario explains why Obama might be making a giant mistake by not considering the Republican proposal. It’s a likely win-win for him. By embracing the plan he would force Republican leaders into doing one of two things: either they’d stand by their principles and work with Democrats to pass a bill that would bring millions of immigrants out of the so-called shadows of society, or they’d risk further alienating the growing illegal immigrant community by walking away from the table.
Instead, it looks like the president will continue running the same play he’s been calling for years, which is to tell Republicans it’s my way or the highway. That might score him a few political points in the short-term, but it won’t do anything to get GOP lawmakers to negotiate with him, and it certainly won’t solve the broader problem in the long-run.
The president has said repeatedly that he has a phone and a pen. Well, maybe it’s time now for him to dial up Boehner and co. and make a deal.
It could end up being Obama’s crowning achievement, and the best thing to happen to illegal immigrants since 1986.
Geoff Holtzman is Talk Radio News Service’s Deputy Bureau Chief. As one of TRNS’s primary correspondents, he helps cover the White House and Capitol Hill. Geoff also covered the 2012 presidential campaign, following the candidates to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and elsewhere. In the process, he learned that not all Motel 6′s are created equal.