The GOP's Immigration Leverage: The Power of Options

By Stanley Renshon on August 12, 2013

House Republicans are providing an important public service for Americans by breaking apart the Senate's massive immigration bill in order to better consider the basic elements of the nation's immigration policy puzzle. They are giving the public, and themselves, information and options.

Some ask: Why is this necessary? Haven't we been debating immigration for years?

Yes, we have.

However, we have done so in a general way in which the many sub-debates that comprise the complex immigration policy puzzle rise up for debate, turn heated, and burn brightly as pundits and advocates tout their "facts," and disappear from the public forum as other issues, more central to the public take their place.

Among the many inter-related complexities of American immigration policy are these: How many legal immigrants the country might or should admit? What should be the relative weight of family vs. skills and education in admissions priority? How are border and workplace enforcement best achieved?

America's multiple immigration issues are best described as a policy version of Rubik's Cube. The point of this metaphor is to underscore that to develop any really effective set of immigration policy solutions, not only do the basic elements have to be legitimate and effective, but they must, just like the pieces of the Rubik's Cube, fit together in a particular way in order to really work.

That's not the way the Senate bill's advocates, including the president, see matters. Indeed, in asserting the need for immediate action on the Senate bill the president has said, "But this time, action must follow. (Applause.) We can't allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We've been debating this a very long time. So it's not as if we don't know technically what needs to get done."

Well, on that point the president is absolutely right. We do know what needs to be done:

  • We need to come to some understanding of just how many new legal immigrants of all kinds the United States can accommodate and integrate.
  • We need to come to some understanding of, and consensus on, the relative weight of family reunification, and needed education and skills should enter into the immigration admissions decisions as well.
  • We need to develop and enforce a realistic metric of border control, workplace enforcement, and entry/exit procedures.
  • We need to develop firm, consistent, uniformly applied criteria for persons who wish to change their immigration status.
  • We need to develop and implement programs that help legal, bona fide immigrants become part of our national and local communities and that encourage their emotional attachment to this country in addition to economic, instrumental attachments.
  • We need to identify and expeditiously deport those who do not enter the country legally, have broken our laws while living or working here, or have committed any kind of fraud or misrepresentation while applying for legal status.

These elements are what is needed to be done, but there is little consensual agreement, even when we think we know the answers, on how these questions can and should be answered and what the best policies might be to implement them.

Answering these questions in a way that garners public understanding and legitimacy are essential if we are to have an effective, legitimate, publically supported immigration system. We don't have that now and the Senate's bill brings us no closer to, and in some respects moves us farther away from that desired state.

That is why the House's consideration of the various immigration policy options in answer to all the above questions represents the best and last chance to put this country on the path to public understanding and consensus.

Next: President Obama's Immigration "Bipartisan" Sophistry, Part 1