CIR Debate Continues Within GOP

Perhaps it’s true that desperate times call for desperate measures, but it can’t be a good sign that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) – one of the GOP’s leading advocates for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) – is resorting to scare tactics, hoping to drive more of his caucus toward an eventual immigration deal. The latest gambit: warning fellow GOP members that they can either get on board with CIR, and have some control over the process, or risk unilateral reform via executive order.

As reports, Rubio’s “now-or-never” pitch goes like this:

“Stalling on Capitol Hill might force the president’s hand, the Florida Republican said. That could result in a mass legalization of undocumented immigrants without any of the reforms included in the Senate-passed immigration bill that Rubio played a key role in writing and negotiating. Rubio said continued delay in Congress could create a scenario in which the nation misses out on his bill’s technological advances along the border with Mexico, drones, cameras, more Border Patrol agents and a national E-Verify system.” [See Immigration Reform: Marco Rubio Warns of Executive Order, by Burgess Everett,, 13.Aug.2013.]

Senator Rubio is at pains to show this really could happen: according to, he points to the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to show that the President has already legalized a small subset of unauthorized immigrants “by the sign of a pen,” and might be tempted to do the same for all unauthorized immigrants if Congress stonewalls his CIR efforts.

Senator Rubio’s message was the stick half of the carrot-and-stick approach GOP leaders have been taking in their attempt to boost support for CIR among rank-and-file Republicans in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, at an immigration forum in Utah sponsored by Mark Zuckerberg’s lobbying group,, Rubio’s Senate colleague, the redoubtable Orrin Hatch, was touting the many economic benefits of CIR, arguing: “…that immigration reform would create more jobs – not take them away from Americans – by bringing in more top foreign engineers and scientists businesses need for brainpower to expand and be competitive.” [See Hatch: Immigration Reform Would Create More Jobs, by Lee Davidson, The Salt Lake Tribune, 16.Aug.2013.] Senator Hatch added, pointedly: “We are so stupid that we push these people out of America…so they can be competitors with us.” Turning to the illegal immigration issue, Hatch said that House Republicans should not worry that the Senate immigration bill would grant amnesty to unauthorized immigrants; as the Salt Lake Tribune reports, Hatch said, “Frankly, we’re in a state of de facto amnesty whether we like it or not.”

Senator Hatch’s comments echoed those of a bipartisan taskforce that outlined a consensus approach to immigration reform in a recent OpEd piece on Teaming up on the article were Democratic luminaries, including former Pennsylvania Governor, Ed Rendell, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Henry Cisneros, and Republican party icons Condoleeza Rice, the former Secretary of State, and Haley Barbour, the former Governor of Mississippi, who chaired the Republican National Committee in the mid-1990s. Together, the group called for tighter borders and better internal enforcement of immigration law, and pointed to the economic benefits – even necessity – of overhauling our immigration system. [See The Way Forward on Immigration, by Condoleeza Rice, Henry Cisneros, Ed Rendell, and Haley Barbour,, 15.Aug.2013.]

They didn’t stop there, but squarely faced what many see as the most contentious issue in the entire CIR debate – what to do about all those unauthorized immigrants:

“These individuals are not living up to their economic potential, are open to exploitation and cost us millions of dollars annually in law enforcement and other expenses. No matter how you spin it, what exists today is de facto amnesty, a situation we can no longer afford or tolerate. It makes little economic and moral sense to allow these unauthorized individuals to remain in the shadows of our society on a permanent basis. Those who pay all penalties, pass a criminal background check and fully comply with other requirements should have the ability to apply for citizenship. This approach is consistent with the American values of fairness and decency.”

Well said. The question is whether moral suasion, economic argument, and the threat of unilateral action by the Obama administration will push enough House Republicans to support CIR. As the clock winds down on the August Congressional recess, we won’t have long to wait for an answer.

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