Immigration Policy and Nevada Poll Numbers

Immigration 2Xenophobia is alive and well in Nevada, and was on display in a brief segment of Representative Mark Amodei’s (R-NV2) “Telephone Town Hall” last month — a caller asked about immigration using the standard talking points (“they’re taking our jobs & they soak up public services”).  Representative Amodei was no more clear at the time than his usual serving of word salad, but he did indicate he’d be supportive of Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) version of the Dream Act.  The problem is that the GOP can no more articulate an immigration policy than Rep. Amodei can explain his positions on any given day.

The GOP appears split between the Security First, Dreamers Second, Maybe Comprehensive Reform Later crowd and the Nothing for Anyone Anytime Xenophobes.  [WaPo] As of October 18th the strategizing looked something like this:

“The overriding idea here is that House GOP leaders such as Cantor and Paul Ryan seem to want to pass something that demonstrates a compassionate interest in fixing immigration. Otherwise, Republicans probably wouldn’t be working on the KIDS Act in the first place. Given the state of the House GOP caucus, Republicans can’t pass anything other than security measures on their own. So if they want to pass something, they’d need Dems. The only thing that could get Dems and a majority of House Republicans (to avoid breaking the Hastert Rule) is the KIDS Act. The rest unfolds from there.”  [WaPo]

And then there was the Shut Down Debacle.

“I know the president has said, well, gee, now this is the time to talk about immigration reform,” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) told TPM. “He ain’t gonna get a willing partner in the House until he actually gets serious about … his plan to deal with the debt.”  [TPM]

Representative Schock must have missed the memo from the Department of the Treasury last April, when it reported the first reduction since 2007:

The U.S. Treasury Department (USGG10YR) projected it will reduce government debt this quarter for the first time in six years as tax receipts exceed forecasts and spending diminishes.

“The pay-down in net marketable debt was estimated at $35 billion in the April-June period, compared with a projection three months ago for net borrowing of $103 billion, the department said in a statement today in Washington. Treasury officials also see net borrowing of $223 billion in the quarter starting July 1. The estimates set the stage for the department’s quarterly refunding announcement on May 1, when debt issuance plans will be released.” [BloombergNews]

However, any excuse will do to avoid a topic which brings with it the possibility of adamant cries of “amnesty,” and other renditions of Tea Party xenophobia from the right wing.   And then, there’s the purely political perspective which was highlighted by Idaho Republican Raul Labrador:

“I think it’d be crazy for the House Republican leadership to enter into negotiations with him on immigration,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) told reporters on the eve of the GOP’s shutdown surrender. “And I’m a proponent of immigration reform. So I think what he’s done over the last two and a half weeks — he’s trying to destroy the Republican Party. And I think that anything we do right now with this president on immigration will be with that same goal in mind: which is to try to destroy the Republican Party and not to get good policies.” [TPM]

Meanwhile, H.R. 15, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill sits in the House of Representatives awaiting an assignment to one of a myriad of committees.  The Senate version, S. 744, passed by the Senate on June 27, 2013 with a 68-32 margin is also stalled in the House.

The House Republicans have several options. (1) Enact H.R. 15 and go to conference with the Senate over differences between H.R. 15 and S. 744; (2) Enact their own version of S. 744 and go to conference with the Senate; (3) Continue to play the piece-meal game emphasizing border security, as in H.R. 1417, which has been reported out of committee but has since gone nowhere;  (4) Continue to play the law and order card, as in H.R. 2278 on immigration, also reported from committee but languishing for want of a floor date.  Or, indeed, any combination thereof.

In the midst of this political  morass into which the Republicans have wandered without a road map, there is polling to suggest that support for immigration policy reform is moving well ahead of Nevada’s Republican contingent in the 113th Congress.

If we drill down into the tabs from polling done in Representative Amodei’s district, the xenophobic caller appears to be in a distinct minority:

T4: Thinking now about immigration reform…As you may know, the House of Representatives is beginning to consider different immigration reform proposals. One option is legislation that would significantly increase border security, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, and make sure that undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal status. If immigrants were to meet a list of requirements, they could eventually apply for citizenship. Knowing this information, would you support or oppose this legislation?

71.7% supported the legislation, 23% opposed it. Moreover, approximately 70% of Republican respondents supported the measure, 80% of Democrats supported it, and 69% of the self identified independent voters supported the description of comprehensive immigration policy reform. [PDF]

The numbers are similar in the cross tabs of the survey taken in Representative Heck’s district.  74.3% were supportive, 21.2% were opposed. In Heck’s district, 70.5% of Republicans supported the statement, 86% of Democrats were supportive, and 84% of those indicating they were independents supported this description of immigration policy reform. [PDF]

The position taken by hard-liners such as Representative Schock (R-IL) and Representative Labrador (R-ID) obviously presents a problem for incumbents Heck and Amodei.  They represent districts in which there is significant support for comprehensive immigration policy reform, but must be wary of offending the sensibilities of the hard-line xenophobes who are vocal in local party leadership.  And thus the GOP remains stuck between the rock of public opinion and the hard place to which they’ve scrambled for safety.

If they continue to adopt the Do Nothing policy, they will eventually have to answer the question why, when there were at least four bills representing general categories of thought on immigration policy they chose to act on none of them?  If they act on the Dream/Kids Acts without addressing the families from which these youngsters come then they face more bad press.  If they act on H.R. 15 or a House version of S. 744 (comprehensive bills) they may face a backlash from the 20%+ in their party which opposes any immigration policy changes at all.

While the polling numbers indicate the last option may be their best in Nevada’s 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts, the pull of the xenophobic and intransigent Tea Party elements may prove too strong.  The Do Nothing Congress of 1948 managed a 0.228 ratio of bills introduced to bills passed, the 112th Congress could only manage a ratio of 0.082. [BrookingsAEIpdf] The ratio for the 113th could look even worse.

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