Fix immigration in smaller bills

Published on Friday, 25 October 2013 22:00 - Written by

Washington likes to think in terms of grand bargains (and evidently, spectacular failures) but Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has a point: if we’re going to achieve any sort of immigration reform this year, it’s going to have to be done in small steps.

In his victory speech — or as the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd called it, his “victory scold” — on Thursday, President Barack Obama called for immigration reform by the end of the year. He later cited the Senate’s comprehensive bill, which he has said should be passed, in full, by the House.

But that’s asking a bit much. Obama’s demands are likely to be met with resistance in the House, “because of the way that president has behaved towards his opponents over the last three weeks, as well as the White House and the things that they’ve said and done,” as Rubio points out.

House Republicans still feel stung by their treatment during the shutdown and the debt ceiling crises. And it doesn’t help that in September, Obama got (typically) personal and called out House Speaker John Boehner by name, saying Boehner was “the only thing that’s holding it back right now.”

So Rubio is right; House Republicans aren’t ready to hand Obama a legislative victory (particularly leading up to the 2014 elections). And comprehensive immigration reform would likely be seen as such a victory.

But piecemeal legislation, on the other hand, could be achievable.

One example is stronger border enforcement. That’s a part of the Senate immigration package, of course, and the only real problem House Republicans have with it is the timing; the GOP wants enforcement first, and citizenship later.

But timing issues can be dealt with.

Another bill that would find sure GOP support is the KIDS Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, who came here with their parents.

“This is about basic fairness,” Boehner himself says. “These children were brought here of no accord of their own. Frankly, they’re in a very difficult position and I think many of our members believe that this issue needs to be addressed.”

Adds House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, “Where else would these kids go? Again, they’ve been brought here as a minor in many instances having no idea what was going on, knowing no other place than America as home.”

The divide in Washington is wide, and there’s no sign it’s getting any narrower. The GOP and the Democrats have both used scorched-earth tactics in recent battles. No one’s really in a mood to compromise.

But that doesn’t mean nothing can be accomplished. Taken piece by piece, immigration reform can happen.

“The overriding idea here is that House GOP leaders such as Cantor and Paul Ryan seem to want to pass something that demonstrates a compassionate interest in fixing immigration,” says Greg Sargent of the Washington Post. “Otherwise, Republicans probably wouldn’t be working on the KIDS Act in the first place… The rest unfolds from there.”

Passing reform piecemeal is better than not passing it at all.