Why would 13 Republican senators who voted for the massive, complex, and largely unread Senate immigration bill in 2013 vote for a much more focused set of immigration bills covering enforcement, followed by selective legalization for those qualified, and recasting the balance between more circumscribed family unification and increased opportunities for higher skilled and educated immigrants?
The most direct answer is that they are likely do so because they will be faced with a choice of voting for an immigration bill that does a great deal of what they said they were in favor of, or helping it go down in defeat.
A real Republican immigration reform bill that covered the most basic contentious issues in a fair, reasonable, and defensible way would make it hard for these Republicans to say no.
Indeed they could pointedly be asked:
- You say you are for immigration reform; do you support strengthening our border, entry-exit security, and interior and workplace enforcement? Who among those 13 Republicans would say no?
- You are aware that a number of Republicans are concerned that legalizing illegal migrants first, and then turning to ensuring better enforcement will help to dissipate the incentive to really take enforcement seriously. That being the case, are you going to insist that legalization come first, or at the very same time, which is essentially the same thing, rather than voting for a bill that does everything you say you want, but just does it in a different sequence?
- You say you are for reform. Do you support legalization for those whose records merit it? Would you be willing to exclude those who have been in serious trouble with the law and not just those convicted of major felonies? Would you be willing to exclude those who have applied for and inappropriately received federal benefits? Would you be willing to exclude those who misrepresent information on their legalization applications? Who among those 13 Republicans would say no?
- In the past, you have supported some "penalties" for those who would be legalized, like "paying back taxes" or "paying a fine". We now know that the first would apply to only a very small number of those whom the IRS has already filed suit against, that any fine that is leveled would be picked up in part by advocacy groups, and that no one would be excluded from legalization because they didn't have the money to pay a fine. We also know that the public would like real, not pseudo, penalties, as part of any legalization agreement that is considered fair and balanced.
- So to balance the reciprocity that essentially is an amnesty, as even some left-of-center pundits sometimes honestly admit ("I use the word amnesty because, let's face it, that's what we're talking about."), would you be willing to consider any of the following: (1) a prohibition for any person who earned legalization to sponsor for legal permanent residency (LPR) status any family members other than spouses and non-adult children; (2) a 10-year moratorium on receiving any federal welfare benefits, excluding Social Security for payments made after regularization, and federal subsidies for health care?
- You are on record as having favored increasing the number of high-tech workers getting visas, among other groups. Would you be willing to increase the number of skilled workers you say are needed by reforming the current categories of family reunification to provide for a better balance without dramatically increasing the levels of immigration every year, a policy that Americans do not support?
Recall that, in immigration reform, it's hard to beat something with nothing. Should the Republicans pass a basic set of immigration reform bills reflecting the above elements, they will have gone from having "nothing" except the promise of a bill at some point, to an actual, principled, fair, and legitimate alternative to what to this point has been the only option, the Senate 2013 bill.
Then you have something that will give you solid policy, moral, and electoral ground to stand upon.