A House Divided: Still No GOP Unity on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The Fourth of July Congressional recess has come and gone, and the House of Representatives has returned to a steamy Washington summer and some contentious legislative battles, including the one over comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). Because the Republicans hold a substantial majority in the House, it’s at least theoretically possible that they could pass an immigration bill without a single Democratic vote.

If only it were so simple. Right now, the biggest battle over immigration is not being waged against the Democrats, but within the Republican Party, because a substantial chunk of the GOP base still recoils at the idea of providing a path to citizenship – however long and arduous – to the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. Meanwhile, many GOP leaders at the national level are concerned that failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform will further alienate Latino voters, who comprise the fastest-growing segment of the electorate.

One might expect the GOP’s immigration skeptics to be cheered by the long list of eminent conservatives who backed the Senate bill, among whom a recent New York Times article counted “Grover Norquist, the Koch brothers, the Chamber of Commerce and the Fox News commentariat” – not to mention Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and 11 others who actually voted for the measure. [See Liberals vs. Immigration Reform, by Bill Keller, New York Times, 07.July.2013.] Former President George W. Bush also weighed in again recently in support of CIR, in an appearance on ABC’s This Week: “I think it’s very important to fix a broken [immigration] system, to treat people with respect. And have confidence in our capacity to assimilate people.”

Asked whether the GOP will be hurt if CIR fails to pass, Mr. Bush demurred: “Well, the reason to pass immigration reform is not to bolster a Republican Party, it’s to fix a system that’s broken. Good policy yields good politics, as far as I’m concerned.” [See This Week’ Transcript: George W. Bush, Laura Bush, ABC News, 07.Jul.2013.]

Nevertheless, party mandarins are not betting the farm that good policy will be enough to win the day. According to Politico.com, a conservative advocacy group called the American Action Network began running the fourth in a series of TV commercials designed to solidify GOP support for CIR. The goal of the ad is to “highlight the provisions in the so-called border surge plan included in the Senate legislation that passed last month.” [See New Ad for Immigration Reform, by Seung Min Kim, Politico.com, 08.Jul.2013, http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=5.] 7D43DD-8111-4DEF-8506-8E230D4747D9  It’s too early to say whether the ads will help soften Republican opposition to CIR in the House of Representatives. Certainly, it should help allay the concerns of constituents who think CIR would somehow weaken our southwestern border.

Before we add CIR to a long list of missed legislative opportunities, immigration skeptics in the House GOP – especially those whose main objection to CIR is the path to citizenship in the Senate bill – would do well to consider a new study indicating that, as the Financial Times put it, “Immigrants drive U.S. economic growth.”

“The 11m[illion] immigrants working illegally in the U.S. are such a strong economic force that they are turning the world’s largest economy into the equivalent of a fast-growing emerging market, according to Saker Nusseibeh, chief executive of Hermes Fund Managers, the £25.6 billion UK investment house. […] ‘If we take this part of the U.S. working population into account… and assume growth in their spending power over time, especially if they emerge from the shadow economy, then much like the story of risking wealth in emerging nations there is a similar story at play in one of the wealthiest nations in the world,’ said Mr. Nusseibeh.” [See: Immigrants Drive U.S. Economic Growth, by Ellen Kelleher, 07.Jul.2013, Financial Times.]

In other words, it shouldn’t be too hard to make a principled conservative case for passing CIR, with the path to citizenship intact – and, given the small army of prominent conservatives who publically support CIR, there is no shortage of political cover for House GOP members to join ranks and pass the Senate bill. So what’s the holdup?

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