Immigration procrastination

Friday , November 22, 2013 - 11:20 AM

An Editorial, The Washington Post

Poor John Boehner. The beleaguered House speaker can’t even eat breakfast in peace. The other day, a pair of teenage girls, activists for immigration reform, accosted him at Pete’s Diner, his early-morning hangout, to ask how he’d like to be deported.

“How would you feel if you had to tell your kids at the age of 10 that you were never coming home?” 13-year-old Carmen Lima, of California, asked Mr. Boehner. “That wouldn’t be good,” allowed the speaker.

He got that right. The rest of his remarks on immigration that day, not so much. Mr. Boehner, who pledged to press ahead with immigration reform a year ago following Mitt Romney’s dismal performance with Latino voters, now says the House will not negotiate with Democrats on the basis of the sweeping reform bill passed by the Senate in June with bipartisan support. Translation: Don’t hold your breath for immigration reform this year, and don’t get your hopes high for next year, either.

Mr. Boehner says he still wants to “deal with” immigration, but “in a common sense, step-by-step way.”

The trouble is, no one knows what those steps would be. The only immigration bill on which Mr. Boehner has permitted a vote by the full House would allow for the mass deportation of young, undocumented immigrants brought to this country illegally as children by their parents — the so-called Dreamers.

Deporting hundreds of thousands of youngsters who grew up and went to school in the United States does not seem an especially promising way to resolve the broader issue of the nation’s broken immigration system. Neither does heaving billions of dollars more at border security without tackling the entire problem. Some partial reforms, such as opening the visa spigot for high-tech engineers, scientists and mathematicians, may make sense, but they don’t get at the fundamental problem.

As it happens, border security and high-tech visas are addressed in the Senate bill, along with more fundamental reform; that’s why it’s 1,300 pages long, a fact that Mr. Boehner cited to dismiss its viability as the basis for negotiations. In the wake of Obamacare’s rollout troubles, large-scale reforms are in poor repute, we understand. But there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The country needs to deal with them in some way. When it does so, it needs to set up a sensible system for future immigration so we don’t wind up in the same fix 10 or 20 years from now. That requires legislation of some complexity, it’s true, but members of Congress are elected to solve complex problems.

President Obama said Tuesday that he is open to dealing with immigration in a piecemeal fashion. But the House can’t dictate that only border security and deportation are on the table. Mr. Boehner should let House Republicans vote on the parts of immigration reform they consider priorities and take that “sensible step-by-step” approach into negotiations with the Senate. It is unserious, and unconstructive, to tell the Senate what it can and cannot bring to the table in negotiations with the House.

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