GOP Leaders Playing Small Ball In Response To Immigration Crisis

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Top GOP leaders are ignoring a huge political opportunity created by the growing public demand for a nation-wide crackdown on illegal immigration, say GOP conservatives.

Instead, GOP leaders are narrowly focused on a set of spending measures and legal changes that would only curb President Barack Obama’s ability to welcome more Central Americans now heading toward the Texas border.

Boehner “needs to be taken to task for this — this is their golden ticket if they had a brain,” a Hill staffer said.

At least 100,000 adults, parents, youths and children from Central America have crossed the border since October, in the expectation that President Barack Obama and immigration judges will allow them to stay.

A large and growing majority of the public wants the illegal migrants sent home, quickly.

A CNN/ORC poll released July 25 reported that 62 percent of adults said they favored “a bill that would make it easier for the U.S. to depart all unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally.” Only 36 percent disagreed with the question.

In fact, many of the border-crossers are adults or older teenagers, and most of the roughly 5,000 pre-teen children without parents are being carried by smugglers northwards to meet their parents or relatives living in the United States.

Overall, the poll showed a 19-point shift since February 2014, in favor “a plan for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and for deporting those already here?”

Other polls show rising public support for removal of the illegal immigrants, even if some of the young people lose a chance to ask for judicial permission to stay.

But the GOP leadership’s plan is so modest that it does not try to block Obama from carrying out a campaign-trail promise to stop applying immigration law to millions of illegal immigrants now in the United States.

He made that promise in a June 30 closed-door meeting with ethnic and Latino lobbyists.

GOP leaders haven’t complained about that promise, partly because a massive de-facto amnesty by Obama could help the 2016 candidates avoid an immigration debate in the presidential election campaign.

Business leaders favor large-scale amnesties, partly because it would increase the supply of low-wage labor.

The Senate’s 2013 bill that is still being pushed by Obama and business leaders would double the inflow of immigrant and guest workers to almost four million per year. That’s roughly equal to the number of Americans who turn 18 each year. Boehner’s modest goals are also highlighted by his call for Obama to take the first step in modifying a 2008 law governing the “trafficking” of victimized youths across the border.

White House officials say that low obliges them to support Central Americans youths until a judge accepts or rejects their legal pleas for green cards, even though the youths and their families are actually paying smugglers to guide them into the custody of federal agencies, who will then deliver them to their parents and families in the United States.

Since June 30, Obama and his deputies have repeatedly refused to describe what legal changes they want to the 2008 law, while Hispanics and progressives stepped up their opposition to any changes that hinder the ability of Central Americans to win green cards.

“It is difficult to see how we can make progress on this issue without strong, public support from the White House for much-needed reforms, including changes to the 2008 law,” Boehner said in the Thursday letter to Obama.

GOP legislators are skeptical of the White House. “The problem is that we feel the president will simply ignore the adjustments and do what he wants to do,” said Louisiana Rep. John Fleming. Eventually, the GOP caucus will approve “dollars of much smaller numbers,” and spending rules intended “to swiftly adjudicate [border-crossers’ legal claims] and to get them back to their homes,” Fleming said.

The caucus wants changes to the 2008 law, he said.  Without those changes, “I don’t see us passing any legislation or any funding,” he said.

Boehner has made clear that he wants a narrow response to the problem. “I’m focused on the recommendations of our border control working group, and we’re operating within those guidelines,” Boehner said Thursday.

Boehner’s group would fund programs to detain all “family units” for repatriation or conditional release after a week, and would change the 2008 law to allow border officials to repatriate youths to Central America prior to any court hearing.

That focus excludes more ambitious — and nationally popular — proposals.

Tennessee Rep. Marcia Blackburn that would bar President Barack Obama’s administration from spending money to produce work permits for illegals, or from welcoming more of of the roughly 100,000 illegal immigrants that have arrived from Central America since October.

The Blackburn measure would also prevent any extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals rule, which has temporarily exempted roughly 560,000 younger illegal immigrants from immigration enforcement.

Boehner is taking small steps because outspoken conservatives are a minority in the GOP’s caucus, said Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks.

The “GOP leadership has two audiences, two bases,” of conservatives and donors, said Fleming.

Boehner keeps his cards close to his chest, Brooks said. “John Boehner has said so any things on immigration that I have no confidence on where he will be today, tomorrow, a year from now,” Brooks said. “He’s been all over the map.”

The resulting standoff may allow administration officials to announce that border agencies have run out of cash in September or October, just before the election. The announcement would be intended to shift the blame from Obama to the GOP for the border meltdown.

Also, any proposed change to the 2008 law would allow Senate Democrats and Obama to demand that the House debate the 2013 Senate immigration bill. That’s would likely split the GOP in the months before the election, because the bill is opposed by the GOP’s base, but it is very strongly support by GOP donors. In contrast, proposals to change and curb funding would not allow a vote on the Senate bill.

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