The GOP’s immigration shame
Republicans choose divisive campaign politics over urgently needed policy.
HOW CAN YOU TELL WHEN a governing party is running out of steam? When
it controls all branches of government yet abandons even the pretense
of addressing an issue most members claim is a “crisis.”
That’s what the GOP-led House did Tuesday in announcing that
discussions over reconciling its enforcement-centric immigration bill
with the Senate’s legalization-focused version will be pushed back to
September at the earliest, and only after completing more hearings.
Instead of naming negotiators and attempting in good faith to bridge
the chasm between the bills, House leaders are busy naming locations
for “field meetings” that can deliver maximum demagogic effect in the
run-up to the November election.
These meetings are nonsense. Congress held more than a dozen hearings
on immigration last year before passing HR 4437. That punitive bill
filled the streets with millions of protesters angry that it did little
to address the nation’s need for a legal supply of labor or the
estimated 11 million-plus illegal residents of this country, besides
turning them into felons.
Senate version, a flawed piece of work in its own right after too many
compromises, at least offered a system (however torturous) by which
millions of underground workers could finally come into the open
without fear of immediate incarceration or deportation. Most of the
last-minute amendments to the Senate bill brought the legislation
closer to the version passed by the House. But Republicans there prefer
clinging to the dangerous fantasy that a massive, militarized wall must
be approved before discussions can even begin over what to do with the
millions of indispensable, but vilified, workers already here.
GOP leaders can barely conceal their preference for divisive politics
over sound policy. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois has reportedly
conveyed to President Bush that hard-line enforcement politics is
polling particularly well this season. One Republican congressional
aide told the Associated Press: “The discussion is how to put the
Democrats in a box without attacking the president.” This is what
passes for Republican leadership nowadays.
Summer and fall will
be gut-check time not just for Bush, who has tried in his vague though
periodically eloquent way to make immigration reform his signature
domestic accomplishment this year, or for pro-reform GOP senators such
as John McCain of Arizona, but for the American people. When the
vulnerable party in power chooses to adopt a campaign strategy that
demonizes a class of people, how it fares will say much about who we
Twelve years ago, Republicans were swept into Congress on
a platform bursting with energy and ideas, with many measures enacted
within the GOP’s first 100 days in power. If inaction and xenophobia
are all the party has left, this could be its last 100 days.