Speaker Boehner: Immigration Reform Unlikely this Year

Now you see it, now you don’t. When the House GOP released its immigration reform framework at the end of January, there was guarded optimism that the planets might snap into alignment, however briefly, to make an immigration reform deal possible in 2014. Granted, their communiqué was long on rhetoric and short on specifics, but it acknowledged what corporate CEOs and immigration activists have been saying for years: our immigration system is broken, and failure to fix it is hurting our economy. [See Text of Republicans’ Principles on Immigration, New York Times, 30.Jan.2014.]

Just as abruptly, the following week, House Speaker John Boehner declared that immigration reform was unlikely to happen this year, and laid the blame at President Obama’s doorstep, arguing that many Americans – including members of his caucus – don’t trust the President to implement immigration reform “as it was intended to be.” [See Politics 2014: Immigration Stall a Matter of Trust – House GOP Leaders, by Nicole Debevec, UPI, 09.Feb.2014.]

This quick turnabout should be less surprising to those who parsed through the House GOP’s Principles on Immigration in the first place. The document’s vagueness on crucial questions makes it seem less a basis for substantive policymaking than a policy patch, to paper over persistent disagreements within the caucus. Though it promised unequivocally not to go to conference with the Senate’s immigration bill, it mostly waffled on what the House GOP actually would do. The contrast was telling.

For example, the House GOP document said, “There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws,” but it ducked the question as to whether this rules out ANY path to citizenship, as some surely will read it, or merely a “special” one – a qualifier that means different things to different people. [See Weekly Standard: 84 House GOP Members Favor “Legalizing” the Undocumented, MurthyBlog, 11.Oct.2013.] It’s always easier to reach agreement-in-principle on the broad outlines, but the appearance of party unity can quickly break down when the talk turns to specifics.

By preemptively closing the door on immigration reform, Speaker Boehner should be able to avoid – at least for now – a bruising intra-party struggle between immigration hardliners and those willing to back a compromise measure. For this party at this moment, that might make short-term political sense – especially with midterm elections looming in the fall – but it’s a shame to defer a legitimate and necessary public debate until yet another election cycle has run its course. Kicking the can down the road for another several months won’t make immigration reform any easier!

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