Immigration Policy Deformed

Remember when Representative Joe Heck (R-NV Tea Party) was attempting to take a ‘middle ground’ on comprehensive immigration policy reform in July 2013? Or, perhaps it might be more accurate to say Rep. Heck was talking about taking a middle ground position on the issue?  [WaPo]  By December 2013 Rep. Heck was ‘shopping a bill’ in the House of Representatives to stop the deportation of young people whose parents had brought them into the country, and to provide a ‘path to citizenship’ for them. [LVRJ]  This, by the way, isn’t comprehensive immigration policy reform — it’s simply one small part of the total picture.  At any rate, Heck’s bill was going nowhere for lack of ‘key support.’ [LVSun]  The lack of support attributable in part to the narrow nature of Heck’s efforts.

During the April 2014 deliberations on comprehensive immigration policy reform, Democrats attempted to get a discharge petition filled to force the comprehensive bill to the floor.  However, Representatives Heck and Amodei both found reasons not to support that effort. Amodei believed the House bill was too much like the Senate compromise version, and Heck thought the discharge petition was a parliamentary gimmick. [RGJ]  Heck’s argument sounds a little thin, especially since it was House Republicans who sponsored a discharge petition in favor of the American Energy Act back in August 2008. [TWS]

Protesters at Heck’s office notwithstanding [KTVN], the Republican strategy on comprehensive immigration policy reform is still piece meal consideration of policy elements with no over-arching reform bill being acceptable.  The Republican leadership in the House recently voted to block the inclusion of the ENLIST bill into the National Defense Authorization Act, [Time] and now House Speaker John Boehner is suggesting he might bring up the measure as a stand alone bill. [Politico]  However, a person might not want to get too enthusiastic about the prospects of the bill — Speaker Boehner has made other comments suggesting piecemeal votes, which have come to naught.

For all of the Speaker’s teasing on the matter, the likelihood of any immigration policy reform bill — specific or comprehensive — coming to the floor of the House doesn’t appear to be a solid bet.

Why?

The Republicans believe the Hispanic vote will not be a major factor in the 2014 mid term elections.  [Reuters]

This school of thought is supported by Pew Research studies which indicate “Hispanic Voters Punch Below Their Weight in Midterm Elections.”

Hispanic voting midtermsIf, indeed, Hispanic voters do not turn out during the midterm election, then the projected 48.6% white voter turn out could be decisive.  However, these may not be the only numbers which are germane to the current political issues.

Politico’s polling indicates strong support for immigration policy reform across a broader spectrum of opinion than the headlines (and Congressional commentary) might suggest.

Seventy-one percent of likely voters surveyed — and nine of 10 Hispanics — said they back sweeping change to immigration laws. The support spans party lines: 64 percent of Republican respondents back comprehensive immigration reform, as do 78 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents. [Politico]

Republicans believe that their obstruction of comprehensive immigration policy reform will create cynicism among Hispanic voters.

Cynical voters are more likely to stay home. The logic goes — if the Obama Administration and the Senate haven’t been able to get any traction, much less accomplishment, toward policy reform, then Hispanic voters are more likely to believe that voting doesn’t really matter.  If voting doesn’t matter, why bother to register and vote? There is some anecdotal evidence to support this speculation. [Salon]  In short, the more obstructive a party, the more opportunity in the future for further obstruction.

Republicans believe that immigration policy reform isn’t a fight they want to have prior to the midterm elections.

There are some formidable supporters of a more comprehensive legislative strategy on immigration policy reform.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been pressing Republican leadership on policy reform, [WaPo] [HuffPo] and so has the National Association of Manufacturers [NAM].  The Business Roundtable called for reform, but stopped just short of endorsing pathways to citizenship. [BR] So, why the opposition among GOP leaders in the House to reforms supported by some of their staunchest supporters?  There are some possibilities to consider:

(a) Just because you’re gerrymandered doesn’t mean you’re safe. Especially from those even further right in your own party.  This might help explain why some candidates were looking at short term success and discounting the lamentations about losing the Hispanic vote in the 2016 presidential year elections.  Perhaps they speculated that it was better to say little (and do even less) about immigration policy reform in 2014 and stay in Congress, rather than do something to insure long term success at the risk of being primaried by ultra-conservative elements in their own party.

(b) There are rocks and there are hard places, and low turn out doesn’t mean you can avoid them.  Low turn out means motivating the ‘base’ is of heightened importance.  Tick off the base voters and an opponent’s potential for a win in a midterm election becomes greater by small degrees.  Or, advocating comprehensive immigration policy reform and being bashed by the Tea Party elements who have been weaned on Limbaugh and nurtured on right wing radio hate-speech, isn’t a recipe for success in low turnout midterm elections.   (Rather like creating a monster, and then being fed to it?)

(c) The Tea Party has already won the fight within the GOP.  Having effectively silenced the advocates of moderate policy reform, and having taken seats in the Congress, the Tea Party element is now driving the Republican bus. Speaker Boehner may have been ‘teasing’ them, but that was still insufficient to get enough GOP members on board to bring immigration policy reform to the floor.  Intriguing media speculation about the primary results and the factions supporting individual candidates in those primaries is a nice academic — or inside the Beltway — pursuit, but the point remains that if  those so-called moderates in the House on the GOP side of the aisle still can’t move on immigration reform then the Tea Party has already taken over for all intents and purposes.

A solution to the impasse is possible IF advocates of immigration reform take the lesson: Don’t agonize, Organize!  Voter registration will be crucial. Get out the vote efforts essential. If proponents of reform would try to get one more person registered to vote for every time Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts say “Amnesty,” the outcome probably wouldn’t be in any doubt.

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