Just as the Affordable Care Act was the signature piece of legislation of President Obama’s first term, the top achievement of term two is supposed to be immigration reform. And, for a while, with Republicans freaked out by the ground they have lost among Latino voters, such legislation looked unstoppable. But now, not so much.
On Friday, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution calling on Congress to pass immigration reform, but the version of reform they want provides only renewable work permits, not a path to citizenship, for undocumented residents of the U.S.
That is not what Obama and the Democrats have called for, nor what Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and John McCain have been pushing, nor what was hammered out in a Senate bill by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight.”
All of them see a path to citizenship as a crucial element in the legislation. But the RNC’s position reflects the view of many Republicans, including many members of the House GOP, that no one should be rewarded for sneaking into the country, even if they happened to be babies when they were sneaked in and have now grown up to go to college or serve in the military.
Democrats and pro-reform Republicans, such as McCain and Rubio, hoped to soften the hard line against offering citizenship by promising that border security would be beefed up even more than it has been. This is despite plenty of evidence that one big reason so many undocumented people have taken up residence in the United States is because crossing the border with Mexico has become so difficult and perilous. Where once Mexican citizens came and went with the rhythm of seasonal work, now they stay because the border has been militarized.
Nevertheless, despite the possibility that more rigid border controls may actually be keeping Mexican nationals on this side of the border and despite the fact that illegal entries are at a 40-year low -- partly because of increased security, but even more because of demographic and economic changes in Mexico -- many Republicans insist that many more millions of tax dollars need to be spent on a problem that is largely resolved.
They get their wish in the current immigration legislation, yet they show no inclination to reciprocate by giving an inch on citizenship -- even for the kids who grew up here and have no other country they want to call their own.
Since the rise of tea party politicians in 2010 and the election of many of their kind to Congress, the inflexible and sometimes irrational opposition of these right-wing absolutists has stymied sensible bipartisan legislation that could help fix a broad array of problems, from creating jobs to building roads and bridges. Thanks to them, immigration reform may be the next good idea that goes nowhere.