Why Passing House Immigration Bills in the Next Congress Matters, Pt. 1

By Stanley Renshon on April 1, 2014

The official spokesman for Democratic Party position, Washington Post pundit Greg Sargent, is worried that House Republicans won't, or alternatively will, pass immigration legislation in the next Congress after the November elections. Actually, he is really more worried about the latter.

Mr. Sargent is certain that the "extremely inadequate" Republican immigrant bill or bills that he refers to — enforcement and citizenship for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) applicants — won't "fix the GOP's Latino Problem". Actually he is worried that it will to a substantial degree, and it might.

I'm skeptical that Sargent's view of what Republicans might pass as legislation is accurate. Most likely it is not. It's hard to understand how the House could pass immigration reform legislation that really addresses enforcement concerns, deals fairly with the qualified DACA population, and ignores the 11.7 million illegal migrants now living and working in the United States.

The partial and, in Sargent's view, "extremely inadequate" Republican immigration legislation might, in realty, be a helpful and humane response to a very difficult question: What to do about the country's estimated 11.7 illegal migrants? A legislative response by Republicans that emphasizes enforcement of a fair and humane legalization initiative might go a long way toward undercutting the moral and political foundation of the Democrat's excessive, unwarranted, and unnecessary approach to immigration reform.

One reason that group can't be politically ignored is that it represents a highly obvious and visible public issue that needs to be addressed. It is also true that the United States does not have the means or the will to summarily deport the 11.7 illegal migrants now living and working in the United States. That requires doing something about the current situation, but that "something" has to include ensuring that the same problem does not arise several years down the road.

And this is where the House's version of immigration reform might address the issue in a forthright, humane, and appropriate way — undercutting the anti-immigrant narrative that Democrats have shamelessly and relentless used for narrow partisan purposes.

The House might well vote for a legalization program that would first require a period of registration and real vetting of those who might potentially gain legal status. That would require real records, interviews in a number of cases, penalties for misrepresentation, and a standard set of criteria that would distinguish those who might reasonably expect legalization and those who would better use the time to prepare to return to their counties of origin.

During the same period of 1.5 to 2.5 years during which this comprehensive registration process was underway, universal E-verify would be mandated for all present and future employers. It would start with large businesses and the areas in which most illegal migrants have been employed, and then gradually expand.

Real, serious immigration enforcement measures, coupled with robust screening and information verification for those applying for legalization, equals the core foundation, but not the only element, of real immigration reform. The House can vote those kinds of measures out now, but it would be politically prudent to wait until the new Congress is seated, regardless of the outcome for control of the next Senate.

Next: Why Passing House Immigration Bills in the Next Congress Matters, Pt. 3