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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

Don't Worry About Boehner "Pullback"

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Thursday morning I tweeted "Don't expect a lot of meaningful House news on immigration for 1-2 months. Just a lot of chatter calling it dead. And then not." About three hours later, Speaker John Boehner held a press conference where he seemed to put the kibbosh on immigration reform in 2014 just a week after releasing Republican "standards" outlining a surprisingly reasonable plan for immigration reform. Boehner said that immigration reform was not going to move until President Obama earned their "trust". He didn't detail what the President did that was untrustworthy (I'm guessing it rhymes with "bloblamacare") and it also begs the question of what changed between last week and Thursday where the President was trusted and then suddenly not.

Obviously there's more going on. Many in the pundit class were quick to latch on to the narrative that Boehner got too much backlash from the right wing in the party and caved. But what if he's following a script laid out ahead of time and nothing really changed in the days following the release of the Republican standards for immigration reform?

Here's my theory. Boehner does still plan on moving immigration reform in the spring and summer as previously noted. That time was picked because most GOP primaries will be finished by then or it will be too late for credible opponents to jump in that late. The hope is to avoid having to make House members take controversial votes on immigration reform in the middle of their primary campaigns when they're trying to win over far right voters. Immigration reform actually is a positive in the general campaign as poll after poll shows (such as this one yesterday from CNN) so taking it up then makes a lot of sense.

But why not just wait until the spring to bring up immigration reform and why the release of standards and a seeming pullback? I think it's because Boehner needed to go public with the Republican strategy in order to get the process moving - drafting, hearings and committee markups. That's a process that still could take several months. But he also needed to take the heat off of members of his caucus by making it seem like the GOP is only going through the motions and won't move immigration reform until some time far away. Once the timing gets better, the bills will have progressed far enough to move to the floor and over to the Senate with enough time to negotiate with the upper chamber and get the legislation finished before the end of this Congress.

I suspected this was the case, but felt it more so after I read an interview with House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) who insisted to a reporter that "job will get done, but it has to be done right." And Boehner in his supposed pullback still said the issue was not over and he was going to continue talking to his own members. So in the spring when this comes back to life, don't be surprised.

Republicans still want to get this off the table and it doesn't necessarily get easier next year. But it does get easier after Republican primaries. Boehner just needed to lower the temperature on the issue in his caucus until then.

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Updated 02-08-2014 at 07:22 AM by GSiskind

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  1. Jack2's Avatar
    Immigration reform actually is a positive in the general campaign as poll after poll shows (such as this one yesterday from CNN) so taking it up then makes a lot of sense.
    Not necessarily. In the poll question, the only pro-enforcement/anti-mass legalization answer mentions deportation of all--and it still polls 40%. No option for other enforcement strategies, no option for benign neglect, etc. A typical poll question based on the falsity that there are only two policy options. A direct indicator of whether a position makes sense politically, both in a primary and general election, would be a question like this:

    27. If a candidate for Congress supports - a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, would you be more likely to vote for a candidate who held this position, less likely, or wouldn't it make a difference?
    Tot Rep Dem Ind Men Wom Wht Blk Hsp
    More likely
    27% 13% 44% 25% 26% 28% 24% 27% 46%
    Less likely
    38 52 22 41 41 35 41 29 18
    No difference 31 31 30 30 29 33 31 39 31
    DK/NA 4 3 4 4 4 4 4 5 5

    This is about as pure a poll question as you can get about which side is politically expedient for a politician. It indicates that the mass legalization position will cost you votes in a general election and it could
    really cost you in a Republican primary (52% to 13% or 4 to 1). Based on this poll, your primary avoidance theory makes sense. Republican opposition appears so strong that even if no pro-enforcement/anti-mass legalization third party option is available in the general, your base might just not vote for you at all. This possibility is suggested by the ABC News/Washington Post poll which indicated that 60% of Republicans could not vote for a candidate if they voted for legal status.

    To help figure out if Boehner's announcement was planned ahead or more of a reaction, here is an article about the pushback:
  2. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    I agree that we have to remain optimistic, despite what looks iike a major setback for immigration reform this year. And, above all, immigration supporters need to keep pressuring President Obama to keep his executive action powder dry, as he is evidently doing with an asylum issue mentioned in one of my posts in today's Immigration Daily.

    It is still more than slightly possible that executive action might be the only reform we will see until after the 2016 election.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
  3. nolanrappaport's Avatar
    This isn't a new problem. The Republicans have been talking about this for some time now. Or instance, at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744, Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) noted in his opening statement that the enforcement provisions in S. 744 would be subject to implementation by the current Administration, which is not enforcing the laws already on the books. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) releases thousands of illegal and criminal immigrant detainees, and it prevents its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)vii officers from enforcing the laws they are bound to uphold. This is not the result of case-by-case exercises of prosecutorial discretion. DHS has placed whole classes of unlawful immigrants in enforcement free zones. How can the American people expect an Administration that is not enforcing the law now to do so in the future?
  4. nolanrappaport's Avatar
    I posted my comment too quickly. I didn't explain what problem I was talking about. Greg wonders why the Republicans distrust President Obama. My comment provides the reason.
  5. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    Except, Mr. Rappaport, that your comment does not provide the reason, with all due respect. The real reason for Republican inaction on immigration reform is Tea Party racism, as even some prominent Republicans are now openly admitting. I have posted a couple of bloggings about this recently.

    Anyone who thinks that the reason for killing reform is that a president who is deporting over 1,000 people a day, far more than his Republican predecessor, is refusing to enforce the law, might just as well blame the failure of immigration reform on Benghazi.

    Also, as lawyers, don't we have the responsibility to read Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion in Arizona v. US (2012) in order to understand how broad administrative power over immigration enforcement really is?

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 02-11-2014 at 05:55 AM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  6. USC2's Avatar
    Quite an interesting post by Rappaport. He supports the same folks who shut down the country and would not hesitate to cause the United States to default on its debt obligations. You are in for a shock in November, when both House's revert to Democrat control. The House Cans would be wise to take the deal the Senate is offering now.
  7. nolanrappaport's Avatar
    I'm not supporting the Republicans. In fact, I represented the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee for seven years. I am just trying to explain what the Republicans need politically to be able to go along with a legalization program. This hasn't changed since the last legalization program was enacted in 1986 (IRCA). They will go along with legalizing the undocumented immigrants who are already here if enforcement measures are taken to prevent a new group from taking its place.
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