Immigration Lame-Duck Fantasies Redux, Pt. 1

By Stanley Renshon on October 2, 2014

It's lame-duck immigration amnesty fantasy time at the White House again, though this year's version starts with a threat. The threat came from Vice President Joe Biden who, "challenged Republicans to 'see the Lord' or the 'lightning' in regard to immigration reform during a speech he made at a reception for Hispanic Heritage month."

More specifically, he told those gathered, "I'm not offering any false hope about what they'll do between now and the election, but ... I can tell you, when this election [is] over in the lame-duck session, they may see the Lord. It is possible. But if they don't, they will see some lightning,"

Translation: Republicans! Agree to pass something resembling the Senate Democrat's 2013 immigration bill during this year's lame-duck congressional session or face the lightning bolt hurdled down, in the form of an extensive executive amnesty, on unrepentant immigration sinners (the Republican Party) by the righteous g-d of executive fiats (aka, Barack Obama).

Leaving aside Mr. Biden's hyperbolic rhetoric regarding either a presidential Zeus or righteous old-testament deity, the president is no longer a colossus, mythical, biblical, or political. He is rather now, for all his external calmness, a president who gambled for greatness and must at this point settle for a historical rating of mediocre.

Yet it's that gap that makes him so needy for accomplishments and his executive immigration amnesty threats so believable and convincing.

Paradoxically, however, the administration's immigration threats are too credible to be useful for their intended purpose.

For a threat to be useful in bringing about a compromise agreement, even one very favorable to the threatening party, there must be some sense on the other side that the deal is worth the cost of the bargain, and that the threatening party can be trusted. The first is not true for Republicans; the second is not true of the administration.

A lame-duck bargaining effort would begin with an administration offer framed by the 2013 Senate Democratic bill. This has been repeatedly rejected as a non-starter by House Republicans, including its leadership. The House has taken the position that real immigration reform begins with real border security and interior immigration enforcement, first; and then consideration of some form of possible legalization machinery thereafter. So the administration in threatening to call down the wrath of the heavens, so to speak, is saying in essence if you don't give me what we want, we'll do it by executive fiat.

Some choice.

That choice offers House Republicans no real incentives to comply and a number of rather severe costs. What would the president offer? Legalization without citizenship? Revising ICE rules so that legitimate discretion does not keep illegal migrants from being speedily sent back to their countries of origin? Making legal work authorization mandatory for all hires? Truly revising the ratio of "family reunification" green cards to those for educated and skilled workers so that they are on a par, or even favor those kinds of immigrants?

These are the major elements of any real immigration reform deal. But there is almost no evidence that the administration is ready to accept these real reforms for discussion, much less act on them.

And then there are the costs to Republicans of accepting anything that even resembles the 2013 Senate immigration bill.

Next: Immigration Lame-Duck Fantasies Redux, Pt. 2