Two Pathways on Immigration

In a win for the rule of law, the amnesty push in the House of Representatives—for the moment, at least—has been stopped in its tracks. But a new front in the battle for meaningful border security measures is about to emerge.

After cutting a few side deals to stop the final two Republicans from adding their names to the amnesty discharge petition, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has crafted an alternative route. He will bring two bills to the floor: Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s bill, which provides work permits to the 700,000 DACA recipients in exchange for border security measures, and a Ryan-drafted “consensus” proposal designed to please a broader swath of the Republican conference, including its moderates. The latter proposal includes a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 3.6 million so-called “Dreamers.”

Though the text of Ryan’s proposal was just released Thursday to the majority of the Republican conference, the speaker reportedly told his members in a closed-door meeting that the White House would support both.

Regardless of White House support, it is unlikely that either bill will pass. Neither bill is really intended to become law, though the Goodlatte bill is, by far, the more preferable option. Instead, Ryan has found a way to take some of the pressure off the DACA question without enacting any substantive reforms.

For now, conservatives and border-security conscious Republicans will take it as a win. Indeed, were it not for some shrewd negotiations on behalf of Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and the House Freedom Caucus, the outcome would likely have been amnesty with a capital “A.”

Yet even if the House dodges the amnesty bullet, critical issues remain. Left undone are campaign pledges by President Trump and dozens of House Republicans to defund sanctuary cities, build a wall along the southern border, and strengthen immigration enforcement at the border and throughout the country.

Since taking office, Trump and his team have taken steps toward addressing sanctuary cities and enforcement. But their efforts have been stymied, somewhat, by lower court judges who have weaponized the national injunction against the president. For the moment, those injunctions successfully have tied up executive authority in the labyrinth of the judiciary system.

Congress, for its part, has missed key opportunities to act. In March, Congress passed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that not only failed to address critical immigration issues, but actually prohibited Trump from building a wall.

Moreover, the leadership in both the Senate and the House blocked amendments to the legislation, muting efforts by the principled members of their party (and the people they represent) to weigh in on border security, sanctuary cities, and other measures.

If the GOP hopes to retain any shred of credibility on immigration, elected representatives need to keep their promises. Congress is now beginning to write new, year-long funding bills to meet a September 30 deadline. Those bills should contain provisions that fulfill the many promises the GOP has made to voters over the years: Strong borders. Interior enforcement. An end to funding sanctuary cities. Rule of law. No amnesty. Merit-based immigration. All of these are key immigration principles that have, for years, resonated with a broad spectrum of Republican voters. These principles should provide the guideposts for what kind of immigration proposal the House may eventually pass.

Yet the drama over the discharge petition earlier this spring muddied the waters with amnesty provisions, weak border security, and compromise measures that in alternative scenarios, many Republicans would be unwilling to abide.

Congressional Republicans need to get their minds right—and their principles straight. Individual spending bills must prohibit funding to sanctuary jurisdictions that openly flout U.S. immigration law. They must fund stronger enforcement at the border and throughout the country, in addition to funding Trump’s border wall. For extra credit, Republicans can eliminate the diversity visa program and end family-based chain migration, both issues the Trump White House also supports.

If sticking by their principles isn’t reason enough to follow through, maybe politics are. As I’ve written before, these immigration policies are, as the pollsters like to say, “80 percent issues” that attract broad, national support.

Deep Divides Remain
The spectacle surrounding the discharge petition has been as painful as it has been illuminating. For one thing, it’s underscored the deep divides that remain in the Republican conference over how to handle the most polarizing aspects of the immigration debate.

Fact is, Ryan and his leadership colleagues produced a bill that was centered around amnesty. The ramifications this has for the GOP should not be understated. As one policy expert put it, Ryan’s proposal “will be the most damaging blow to securing the border [and] restoring the integrity of the law and legal immigration reform since the 1960s.”

GOP leadership, at least in the House, is on record supporting amnesty. And so, too, is every Republican who votes for these bills. In that sense, these votes will set a marker in reshaping debates over what constitutes acceptable immigration policy in the future.

Yet this sturm und drang has also demonstrated the power of consequential factions within the House, whether they’re the moderate Republicans who chose to swing their weight to the Democrats, or the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which leveraged a farm bill to get closer to its preferred immigration outcome. Other members should take a lesson. Determined groups can, and now have, shifted outcomes despite the wishes and efforts of their leadership. For those interested in pushing for unorthodox process and robust debate, this is a positive outcome.

So while the issues remain unresolved, the policies that should guide the Republican conference forward are now clear. The same constants that have propelled the GOP to electoral success for decades are the ones they should be promoting now. They have an opportunity to do just that in these next few funding bills. It would be a mistake to allow the prospect of standing for their principles to pass them by yet again.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

About Rachel Bovard

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and Senior Advisor to the Internet Accountability Project. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.

Photo: LEGAL versus ILLEGAL arrows, dilemmas concept.

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