Passing Immigration Reform: Republican and Democratic Dilemmas, Pt. 2

By Stanley Renshon on May 15, 2014

If Republicans in the Senate or the House pass immigration bills, Democrats will be in a tough spot. They could, and many would be tempted, to turn away from a Republican bill because:

  • It was not "comprehensive" enough meaning that it didn't give every illegal alien legalization, or that it didn't give every illegal alien a path to citizenship, or that it did not raise the number of legal immigration slots well past the million that the country now averages, or that it didn't provide unlimited visas for those waiting in one of the several lines that our immigration systems operates with, or that it didn't increase the number of visas available for high-tech industries, agricultural interests, or corporate business interests; or

  • They calculate that taking the immigration issue off the table by supporting a Republican alternative will deprive them of a powerful political issue. They would of course, continue to berate Republicans even if they did sign on, for not doing more on the issues noted above on which Republicans could be accused of "falling short", at minimum.

Republicans can count on Democrats to demagogue any Republican bills, passed or not, as "falling short", "not meeting American's immigration needs", or other of their more tendentious racially and ethnically tinged arguments.

However, these are harder arguments to make when you have voted in favor of an alternative, even though it is one that you say you don't fully agree with.

Moreover, since any Republican immigration bill is likely to address legalization and illegal migration prevention, it will be, in its basics, very much in accord with what Americans have said, repeatedly, that they support.

As a result, however loudly they shout or complain, Democrats will be on the defensive. Their narrative will now at least have another more moderate immigration approach for comparison. And, while Americans may not find either narrative wholly agreeable on every point, they will be open and supportive of a thoughtful, principled Republican alternative that responds to their expressed concerns and not to the back-room bidding war that characterized the Democrat's Senate immigration bill.

Republicans then have three basic choices:

  1. Do nothing.

  2. Accept the Democrat's Senate immigration bill as it embodied in the House's 1,137 page legislation that mirrors the Senate's Democratic bill.

  3. Pass their own, more tailored bills that address legalization as well as workplace, border, and interior enforcement.

There doesn't seem to be much room for debate about which is the better option.

Option 1 opens up Republicans to the charge that they won't, don't want to, or can't get anything done about America's immigration issues. And that would be a fair charge given that they now control the House, and starting in January might also control the Senate.

Option 2 commits Republicans to a truly awful immigration bill that will not adequately address the basic problems of immigration enforcement going forward, will alienate their core supporters and the average Americans who have developed reservations about the Senate Democrat's bill as they learned more about it, and whose reservations would deepened if Republicans gave them a viable option for real reform.

Option 3 is not only the most principled position of the three but also the most likely to gain public support for their proposals and the party.

There remains, however, the question of timing.

Next: A Republican Immigration Reform Bill: The Politics of Timing, Pt. 1