House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called a two-hour family meeting of Republicans on Thursday in a last-ditch attempt to head off amnesty votes on the floor of the House. As reports have trickled out about the meeting, however, it’s clear Ryan bought himself nothing but time.
Proponents of the discharge petition—nearly all House Democrats and more than 20 House Republicans—remain confident they will have the requisite number of signers to force the votes they want. Speaker Ryan, however, is still scrambling to come up with a compromise legislative solution that avoids losing control of the floor to the discharge process.
Setting the complicated procedural matters aside, either outcome is bad news for those who prioritize national sovereignty and border security. Members either will have to vote on the discharge petition’s series of amnesty bills or, absent that, Ryan’s consensus proposal, which is likely to be amnesty-lite with negligible border security.
Neither outcome is positive, particularly for a Republican Party whose baseline appears to have shifted from “no amnesty” to “some amnesty.” Now that amnesty is on the table, the argument simply appears to be over how much is given away, and to whom.
Since taking down the farm bill over the immigration issue last month, members of the House Freedom Caucus and other border-security conscious Republicans have been negotiating for legislation that includes work permits for the 700,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, in exchange for significant border security measures, funding authorization for President Trump’s border wall, an end to extended-family chain migration, and elimination of the diversity visa program which has allowed terrorists into the country.
Most of these points are bound up in what is colloquially known as the Goodlatte bill—so named for its sponsor, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). The House leadership has refused to bring that bill to the floor, though it enjoys significant support within the conference.
Rather, Ryan and his team are crafting legislation that will likely offer amnesty to a population much larger than DACA recipients, in exchange for very little.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a moderate Republican leading the discharge strategy, is demanding a “permanent fix for Dreamers,” which includes the entire category of illegal aliens brought to the United States as children, estimated to include as many as 3.6 million people. Moreover, all of the members engaged in the discharge strategy have dug in their heels over their demands for this group to obtain a pathway to citizenship—in other words, jump ahead of the thousands of legal immigrants awaiting the same privilege.
As a policy matter, this has now devolved into an amnesty-based binary choice: amnesty for DACA recipients with negligible border security, or amnesty for everyone with no border security. Either way, this discharge petition has created lots of smoke, but little positive movement for Republicans.
By fretting about how much amnesty to give away, Republicans are missing a huge opportunity actually to deliver meaningful immigration reform that is broadly popular across the country.
In a Harvard-Harris poll in January, support for strong border security measures came in at 80 percent. Ending the diversity visa lottery had 68 percent support. A merit-based immigration program—that is, one that places a greater emphasis on an applicant’s job skills over their ties to family members—was supported by 56 percent in a Morning Consult-Politico poll. Huge swaths of voters oppose federal funds going to sanctuary cities. Even President Trump’s border wall is gaining favor.
Perhaps these proposals are so popular because they actually begin to solve the problem of illegal immigration by reducing the incentives for it. Moreover, these measures are exactly what Republicans have, for years, told voters they would prioritize.
But instead, Ryan is about to force members to vote for his “consensus” language could deliberately undercut years of Republican promises against granting amnesty and ignore the issues that have wide support among the base—meaningful border security measures, Trump’s wall and an end to extended-family chain migration and the diversity visa program.
It’s a pointless exercise with little to gain and a tremendous amount to lose. Members of the House who prioritize strong border security should not compromise their principles and vote for the Ryan effort, especially if it is simply a political exercise designed to avoid the embarrassment of House Democrats taking over the floor of the Republican House.
The Democrats and moderate Republicans are right about one thing—the issue of illegal immigration needs to be addressed. But rather than a panicked attempt at self-preservation, House leaders should be using this opportunity to deliver meaningful, principled immigration reform based on the policies that the president and the voters who elected him support.
Republicans made two big promises to voters last year: they would repeal Obamacare, and put an end to President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty. They’ve already failed on the first promise. It would be a shame if they approached the fall midterm elections not just wildly failing on the second—but passing an expansion of amnesty, to boot.
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