Our immigration system is broken. Few would disagree.
The political debate over immigration reform over the past decade has centered on legalization (also called amnesty) versus border security, and both sides are dug in.
Liberals believe they cannot achieve their aim of the legalization of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the country without a comprehensive bill. For this reason, they oppose dealing with immigration reform with individual bills, as the Republican-led House majority intends to do.
Political considerations are, of course, at work here.
Republican elected officials are wary of their base being able to claim they support amnesty. At the same time, Republican Party officials, donors and operatives understand that Republicans must increase their share of the rapidly growing Hispanic vote beyond the less than one-third that Mitt Romney won in 2012.
Therein lies the challenge.
It’s easy to forget that a bipartisan immigration reform bill, authored by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., passed last year in the U.S. Senate. Most Senate Republicans opposed it, and the House has said it is a nonstarter, with weak enforcement provisions and border security that has too many holes in it.
There is another consideration.
If the House and Senate agreed on a legislative package that included legal immigration reform, dealing with those here illegally and new increases in border security, what confidence would Republicans have that the Obama administration would enforce the border security and enforcement parts of the law?
Republicans have good reason to ask this question.
If you take the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the Obama administration has unilaterally (and extra-constitutionally) changed existing law literally dozens of times. They have ignored mandates, delayed provisions, made changes, all through their own “executive authority.”
But wait, doesn’t Congress write and pass the law and the executive branch enforce it?
Yes, your seventh-grade government teacher was correct.
Assertions of executive branch authority are not new. Indeed, the Bush administration utilized them.
But the Obama administration has taken them beyond what any constitutional scholar ever could have dreamed.
Here’s an incomplete list of constitutional violations under President Barack Obama: Under Obamacare, they have delayed (removed?) the employer mandate, delayed out-of-pocket caps and delayed insurance requirements. They issued a scaled-back version of the DREAM Act through executive order. They have made recess appointments when the Senate was not in recess. They’ve used the IRS for politically motivated purposes. The president directed the U.S. Department of Justice to ignore the law and not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act. They went around Congress to enable the EPA to enforce cap and trade. The list could go on.
Why would Republicans pass a law on immigration reform when the Obama administration would be entrusted to enforce it? What confidence should they have that it would be enforced?
Immigration has been an overwhelmingly positive thing for America, over the course of our history. Indeed, as it is often said, we are an immigrant nation. Apart from Native Americans, we are all from somewhere else.
However, in a post-9/11 environment, we must know who is here, and we must control our borders. We must also have a skilled labor force, and that includes legal immigrants.
Republicans have a few paths to choose from going forward:
1) Wait until 2017 and hope that a Republican president is in office.
2) Pass piecemeal immigration reform legislation this year but prevent a conference committee (forcing Senate to pass House bill(s) or nothing at all).
3) Wait until 2015, if the Republicans take the U.S. Senate majority, to negotiate with Obama on immigration reform from a stronger position (this still requires the Obama administration to enforce the law).
All three paths have potential risks.
Mackowiak is a syndicated columnist, an Austin- and Washington-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group LLC. He has been an adviser to two U.S. senators and a governor, and has advised federal and state political campaigns across the country.
This article was originally published in the Austin American-Statesman.