In mid-1986, when then-Representative Charles Schumer was brokering the immigration reform bill that would be enacted later that year, he described the challenge of forging a compromise across the perilous immigration divide as “a metaphor for governance.” In other words, he saw it as a test of the capacity of Congress to manage one of the most fraught and complex areas of public policy.
Last week, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected as “condescending” President Trump’s proposal for a more merit-based immigration policy, she provided a metaphor not just for the shattered condition of Washington’s governance of immigration, but also for the Democratic Party’s ideologically rigid disavowal of all principles of immigration constraint.
Unless the moderate Democrats who form the majority of the party’s membership assert themselves over the open-borders Democrats who dominate the party’s activist base, they will be complicit in a blunder that could well lead to the reelection of Donald Trump. Many Americans will prefer Trump’s chest-thumpingly excessive efforts to limit immigration over Nancy Pelosi’s what-me-worry? indifference to the crisis now unfolding on the Mexican border. However disjointed and border-wall-obsessed Trump’s policies may be, he will at least be able to make a case to voters that he has tried to constrain the chaos.
Speaker Pelosi is all-in for a continuation of the family-based system for distributing green cards. In place since 1965 (with modifications in 1990), the law facilitates a path to citizenship not only for the immediate relatives of established immigrants — their spouses and unmarried minor children — but also eventually for entire extended families, inclusive of aunts, uncles, and cousins, in an ever-lengthening progression known as chain immigration.
There is a word for preferences based on blood. It is “nepotism.” It has nothing to do with merit or equal opportunity. It’s all about favoritism, a.k.a. bias. Our neighbors in Canada, who pride themselves on accepting immigrants from around the world, think it is not a good way to build their country. The Canadians have adopted a policy of assigning intending immigrants a grade — an actual number, based heavily on their education and skills and language abilities — that provides a measure of their ability to integrate culturally and economically into Canadian society. The United Kingdom and Australia have similar systems. We haven’t heard how those countries rate on the Speaker’s condescension meter, but surely they would send it into the red zone.
One day after slamming Trump’s immigration proposal as “condescending,” Pelosi celebrated House passage of a bill called the Equality Act. As the New York Times reported, the legislation “prohibits discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in both the public and private sectors, offering civil rights protections in businesses, hospitals and welfare services. It explicitly states that individuals cannot be denied access to a locker room or dressing room on the same basis.”
The law has little chance in the Republican-controlled Senate. But like Pelosi’s stand against merit-based immigration, it will be good for the solidarity of the Democratic base. Pelosi, like Trump, is laying down her markers. The 2020 campaign is moving into high gear. But to use a metaphor for the dysfunction in Washington, immigration policy has driven off the road and lies upside down in a ditch.