An invasion of kids from Central America; the defeat of the House Speaker in a primary election where his opponent painted him as soft on "amnesty". The difficult path for Republicans becomes more clear.
A few years ago Lou Dobbs lost his job at CNN, at least in part because he had become a broken record on immigration. Conservatives loved it, but the same editorializing every night got boring, his ratings declined, and he was given an extended "time out" to expand his horizons before returning in a lesser role on Fox. At the risk of emulating Dobbs, let's repeat the truths that Republican leadershp is forced to deal with.
1. One of the Republican meme's is that before you can have comprehensive immigration reform, you must secure the border. For some this is a way of sounding reasonable and willing to compromise without needing to address the thornier issues of permanent residence, access to government services, and citizenship. In any case, recent events have shown the concern to be painfully real.
Unable to pass the Dream Act to legitimize illegal (oops, "undocumented") immigrant children, President Obama unilaterally instituted a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program two years ago, offering sanctuary for up to 1.8 million children who arrived here under age 16. It has taken a bit longer than some might have predicted, but the easily anticipated "unintended consequences" of the President's policies have exploded in recent months as the border has been overrun by nearly 50,000 kids who have been sent north by their parents, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
The President's familiar pattern of the past few years repeats itself: a speech about how this group will not be allowed to stay - while the border agents are giving out papers with court dates and releasing the kids to go find relatives to live with. Joe Biden is sent to Central America with a bag of cash to improve societal institutions - but misses the Honduran president who is off in Brazil at a soccer match. Pictures of overflowing detention facilities in Texas and Arizona are on the nightly news for a few days, before the media get back to the Middle East and the IRS hearings. The average 10 year old in El Salvador is more savvy than those who believed protestations about not raising middle class taxes, keeping your doctor, and Red Lines in Syria. Words mean nothing.
Point proven: reform must start with strong border enforecement.
2. For now, Republicans can hold the House and likely take the Senate with one third of the Hispanic vote, but they cannot win the presidency where Hispanic votes can determine a half dozen key swing states. The aftermath of Eric Cantor's defeat in Virginia - where David Brat's only policy disagreemnt with the Majority Leader was on immigration - the conservatives are energized and reform is off of the table for 2014. Only those few Republicans in heavily Hispanic districts will continue to push - and that does not include John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy.
3. The Democrats understand that they have a win-win wedge issue, will largely ignore the plight of the kids from Central America, and will not move away from an "all or nothing" stance. Heads they get 10 million voters; tails they get a whip to flog the heartless Republicans.
But, there is a two-step solution for Reince Priebus and others who take a longer and broader view:
1. A Republican Senate in 2014 removes Harry Reid's blocking position and allows Republican "secure the borders" legislation which President Obama would be hard-pressed to veto. Maybe there is a citizenship for military service sweetener.
2. The Republican presidential candidate will need to thread the needle - secure borders, a guest worker program, and legal residency without voting rights. With no room for more in the primaries or less in the general election good policy will match good politics.
Meanwhile, a prediction - most of the kids will stay.
This week's bonus is an answering machine message from a school in Queensland Australia - the destination of incorrigible English criminals where prarie dogs and kangaroos outnumber people.
bill bowen - 6/27/14