What Speaker Boehner Could Achieve: A Focused, Public Interest Immigration Grand Bargain, Part 2

By Stanley Renshon on December 5, 2013

What Speaker Boehner could accomplish, and leave as a positive and lasting legacy to this country, would be a set of immigration reform measures that begin with serious and effective enforcement controls, but also recognize that there are some illegal aliens living and working here who deserve our compassion and help.

Not all do.

House Speaker
John Boehner (R-Ohio)

The first part of this small comprehensive grand bargain would be a solution for the plight of two different groups of illegal aliens: those brought to this country as young children and those adults who have chosen to bypass American immigration law and procedures by living and working in this country without authorization.

The two groups are fundamentally different — in their circumstances and how they came to be here illegally, the degree of their call on our compassion, and in how, exactly, we might balance compassion with consequences.

The first have much less culpability for breaking American immigration laws and have lived in this country, often unaware of their precarious legal status. They are the hostages of their parents’ choices, and are the most deserving of our compassion and help. This compassion however, should not further reward their parents for their choice to break our laws.

The second group of illegal migrants, made a conscious adult choice to break our laws, and by living and working here they have prospered from doing so. Their motivation, a self-interested wish to better their lives, is understandable. However, that is not by itself a legitimate basis for simply forgiving and further rewarding their behavior without requiring that they make substantial sacrifices to earn the change of status that might be offered. I would include among those sacrifices: agreeing to legalization without citizenship, and then only if they provide evidence that they ought to be eligible for immigration status relief; agreeing to be barred from sponsoring relatives other than their spouses and minor children, who themselves would be barred from further relative immigration sponsorship; an agreement not to apply or make use of any public assistance benefits, other than those they pay into like Medicare and Social Security once they have achieved a change to legal immigration status.

This proposal (which I offer on my own behalf and not necessarily the Center's) envisions a step-by-step process, not only in considering each bill individually the House may take up, but in passing and sending to the Senate these distinctive stand-alone bills to be debated and voted on and if passed then sent on to the president. Assuming the president signs that bill, the step would be repeated for other bills that the House might pass.

For example, assume for the sake of discussion that House passes some version of a bill that requires mandatory nation-wide workplace verification and enforcement for all present and future workers. This bill, alone, would be sent to the Senate, debated, and if passed, then sent to the president. If he signed it, the House would take up the next bill and so on.

An alternative step-by-step process would be to pass and send to the Senate a set of bills dealing with one basic subject: workplace enforcement, an entry-exit system and border crossing verification that would then be sent to the Senate and then on to the president for signature.

Once this had been done, a separate set of bills, dealing with illegal aliens who had been brought here as children and adults currently living and working here illegally would be sent forward to the Senate and then, if passed, on to the president.

The obvious point to this procedure is to ensure that each part of the package, and only those parts, are debated, passed, and signed into law.

This avoids the major mistake of IRCA and the current Senate bill, which immediately grants legalization, but only promises enforcement.

This sequence still, however, does not solve a very basic problem, which is what should come first, enforcement or legalization?

Next: Boehner's Dilemma: Which Comes First, Legalization or Enforcement?