For the second time in a decade the Senate has passed a huge immigration “reform” (liberalization) bill at the behest of employers and Hispanic activist groups. This happened in 2006, and then as details of the bill became known to the country at large, opposition grew so intense that the Capitol internet crashed. The House refused to go along and reform died. Proponents vowed to exact revenge on the House in that fall’s midterm elections. The Republicans lost control but the proximate cause was the unpopular Iraq war not the failure to enact the immigration bill. . Anyone doubting that conclusion would have a hard time explaining what transpired in the next Congress. In 2007 the new more liberal and Democratic Senate failed to stop a filibuster of the “Dream Act” and never took up immigration again during its two-year life.
This was supposed to be immigration summer in Washington, and to some extent it was. The Senate passed the immigration bill in June. Its supporters demanded the House follow. But once again the country learned what was in the bill, or at least realized it would increase the levels of legal immigration and give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, and then Republican House members decided to do nothing. Senator Marco Rubio notwithstanding, there is a significant difference between the two parties on immigration. Republicans are rhetorically opposed to illegal immigration realizing it’s anathema to everything the party represents. And beyond opposing illegal entry, Republicans seem unenthusiastic about legalizing those who are here illegally. Perhaps this also means they tacitly agree with the concept of self-deportation, the idea that if we make it impossible to work here, illegal immigrants will leave. I say tacit because few Republicans will say this openly. While there is no support for legalization, there is no fervent demand for active deportation either.
Republicans also like the concept of making employers use E-verify to check the status of new hires online. Yet, there is a basic disconnect in putting the onus of immigration enforcement on employers, the beneficiaries of illegal labor. We cannot expect them to resist the urge to hire cheap illegal workers who will never file workers’ comp or Title VII claims, join a union or seek a raise. The Reagan administration introduced the concept of employer sanctions- and then made the fateful decision not to enforce it. That and the bad Mexican economy brought on the biggest wave of illegals since Texas was independent and being colonized. The Clinton administration had no more of an interest in enforcing the new law than did its Republican predecessors. The wave continued to flow until the 2008 recession.
The House Judiciary Committee, with jurisdiction over immigration, has approved bills to employ more border agents and require employers to use E-Verify, which most employers oppose. These enforcement bills, and possibly one allowing some of the “Dreamers,” illegals who entered the country with their parents as minors, will come to a vote in the House. But that’s it. If the House votes on immigration, this would be the extent f it.
But there is a strong minority of republicans led by Steve King of Iowa who oppose any immigration bills. They fear that even a modest bill will end up in a conference with the Senate bill and be inflated into a vast “reform” pushed through both Houses under intense media pressure to “get something done.”
But the clock is running down. It will soon be 2014, an election year, meaning Congress is very unlikely to pass anything controversial. If the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high the argument for legalization of millions of new job seekers appeals only to employers and Hispanic activists . This will turn out much like it did in 2006. Proponents of reform will try to whip up the public about the callousness of “doing nothing” on immigration but most people will not care. That may be the best thing we can hope for in this Congress.