Time for House to Show Leadership on Immigration

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is clearly the biggest obstacle to the passage of so-called “comprehensive” immigration reform. And that’s a good thing. “Comprehensive” reforms should be limited to laws that make things simpler–as in the tax reforms proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). The “Gang of Eight” Senate bill is looking like Obamacare II–same massive length, same waivers, same loopholes, same big rush.

The bill’s defenders are fond of highlighting some of its more popular provisions–a visa monitoring system to make sure foreigners don’t overstay their visas; a streamlined immigration process for skilled applicants; the end of the “diversity visa” system. But each of these is worth passing on its own, on security or economic grounds. It’s not clear why those measures must be linked to the bill’s weaker, less popular, “amnesty” provisions.

Democrats have made the “path to citizenship” the price for passing other, independently sensible, reforms. And many Republican leaders appear to have accepted the terms of that puzzling bargain because they are in a rush to move immigration reform “off the table”–as if Democrats would ever let them! But if immigration reform is worth doing, it is worth doing right, rather than passing it quickly and dealing with what’s in it afterwards.

Senate Democrats have made it clear that they will not consider incremental reforms to the immigration system, or allow up-or-down votes on individual provisions. The House is apparently taking a different approach, considering each proposal separately. If so, that presents an opportunity for Republicans to call the Democrats’ bluff by presenting all the independently sensible immigration provisions, individually or as a package.

Let Democrats explain why they are against visa monitoring or why they are against border security. Yes, the public favors a “path to citizenship”–but only when guaranteed that the borders will be secure, when assured that this “amnesty” will be the last. The House version of immigration reform should not be a new and improved version of the Senate’s “comprehensive” approach–rather, it should be the sensible alternative to it.

The problems of how to admit new immigrants, and what to do with those illegal immigrants already here are, in fact, largely separate problems. It makes little sense to tie them together; in fact, it allows Democrats a veto over border security and law enforcement. Republican leaders are clearly worried about the party’s image, but in fact GOP can take a pro-immigration stance that does not capitulate to “amnesty.” It has a unique window–now.