Though Republicans in Congress are trying desperately to pretend otherwise, immigration policy has never been more in the spotlight. As I wrote last week, a new Gallup poll shows that it is the top issue on the minds of Americans—so much so that it’s the largest percentage of people identifying the issue in Gallup’s history of asking the question.
People are paying attention for a reason. The president isn’t just tweeting about it; he’s made border security a signature policy of his administration. House Republicans just endured a protracted floor fight over border security policy (predictably, they punted). Meanwhile, Democrats are talking about shuttering the entire Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency—and maybe even shutting down the government—while blocking any attempts to update the policies currently responsible for separating families at the border.
All of this sets up September, the end of the fiscal year, to be a month when one of two things will happen: either the Republican base will be energized by floor fights on immigration policy, or the Republican leadership will defer the issue until after the election, when they will quietly pass funding legislation that avoids implementing any of their policy priorities.
Right now, it’s looking more like the latter than former.
Funding Bill Repudiates Trump’s Agenda
The House last week passed a funding bill out of committee that showed how Republicans really view the current immigration fight. Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian hit the highlights: The bill ignores President Trump’s request for more funding at the border; increases the number of temporary foreign workers by extending seasonal farm-working visas to year-round; and eliminates country caps for employment-based visas.
The legislation also blocks implementation of the attorney general’s new policy to prevent bogus asylum seekers. As Krikorian points out, doing so actually enshrines Obama-era asylum policies in law, “meaning that smugglers could rely on it as a means of getting their customers past the Border Patrol and into the interior of the country.”
The bill does provide $5 billion for the wall (just $20 billion short of what the president requested)—funding that will no doubt be stripped out by the Senate. Aside from that, nowhere does the bill defund sanctuary cities, juice up border security, defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, or enact any other policies that Republicans have been promising for decades, including in the last election.
If this is what the supposedly “conservative” House is churning out, imagine what the more moderate Senate will produce.
This is a bad bill, and Republicans know it. That’s why Republicans would like to avoid accountability by passing it not ahead of the elections—but after, and with the votes of numerous members who will have just lost their elections and no longer feel beholden to principle, party and least of all, the people they represent.
Delay Carries Huge Risks
The GOP cannot and should not delay the immigration fight—especially considering how favorable their positions are when compared to what has become mainstream policy for progressives.
Two likely presidential candidates, Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have called for abolishing ICE. Democrats in the House have introduced bills to do so. (ICE is responsible for preventing gang violence, illegal drug trafficking and also human trafficking. But no big deal.)
Democrats have also compared the same border detention centers that operated under President Obama to Nazi death camps now that they’re operating under President Trump. Some grassroots liberal organizations are pushing to de-criminalize illegal immigration entirely.
Needless to say, these positions are wildly out of step with the rest of America. Consider that only 25 percent believe ICE should be dismantled, while polling by Democrat political strategist Mark Penn showed 70 percent of respondents agreeing that stricter enforcement of immigration laws are needed. 64 percent agreed that illegal border crossers should be sent home. Opposition to sanctuary cities was overwhelming.
Given all of this, you’d think Republicans in Congress would take this opportunity to seize the moment. For years, they have been the party of strong border security and common-sense legal immigration. After wandering in the wilderness for eight years, watching President Obama unilaterally (and unconstitutionally) rewrite immigration law, this is the opportunity to finally push policies that they, and a growing number of Americans, support.
An Opportunity Easily Lost
Except, of course, this is Congress. And these are the same Republicans that promised to repeal Obamacare root and branch! And didn’t. This is the Congress that promised the first thing they’d do is repeal Obama’s illegal executive amnesty—which is still around. This is the Congress that swore it would do a host of other things (be fiscally conservative, for one) and has not.
On this issue, at least, Republicans finally have the leverage to get their years-long immigration promises across the finish line. It would be a mistake to willingly give that up. Rather than writing milquetoast bills in order to avoid offending Democrats, they should write bills that fully fund President Trump’s border wall and defund sanctuary cities, at a minimum, and take them to the House and Senate floor.
If Democrats protest—if they engage in a foamy rage that ends up shutting down the government—well, the consequences will be theirs. Shutdowns are many things, but when it comes to where politicians actually stand on the issue at hand, they are hugely clarifying.
It’s rare that any political party has such a bold opportunity to crystallize their positions on an issue that looms so large in the minds of voters. Even rarer is the opportunity to do so when the opposition is so outrageously unhinged in a way that could do decades-long damage to their brand if they are forced to publicly defend it.
Voters have been waiting for the last two years to see some spunk out of their otherwise lackluster majorities. The Republican Party should seize the opportunity now, before the midterm elections, to finally do what, for decades, they’ve been promising voters they would.
Photo Credit: Andre Chung for the Washington Post via Getty Images