Commentary Magazine


How Much Does the Text of the Immigration Bill Matter?

The details of the long-awaited bipartisan immigration reform bill are out, and there is much to digest, though the bill contains few if any surprises. But one concern that hangs over the process is whether the bill’s proponents and sponsors can convince the public that the text of the law will also be the reality of the law. Several recent stories have called this into question.

In his column in yesterday’s Washington Examiner, Byron York lays out the details of the three enforcement measures–E-Verify, border security, and visa monitoring–as well as the “triggers” to allow illegal immigrants to apply for green cards and citizenship and the process by which they can do so. But there are indications that the skeptics will not be mollified. York writes:

Even if lawmakers agreed with the proposals, or amended them to their liking, there will remain the fundamental, unavoidable question of whether the Obama administration, or the next presidential administration, will enforce the law.  Gang members will try to convince skeptics that the provisions are iron-clad.  The skeptics will likely remain skeptical.  And that’s before considering the onslaught of lawsuits that pro-immigration activist groups will file to try to undo key provisions of the law.

There is a certain amount of irony here, and it’s something I’ve written about previously. Just as one liberal group was found to be calling voters and misinforming them about Rubio’s stand on a pathway to citizenship–a stunt that can only hurt, not help, the cause of immigration reform–the pattern of behavior on the left has given the public every reason to suspect that the law won’t actually be the law.

York notes the legal tactics they may use to weaken the law after passage, and Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo explains the political tactics some Democrats are using to sow division among the lawmakers seeking to agree on a compromise bill:

Enter American Bridge, a prominent Democratic super PAC devoted to tracking Republican candidates and gathering opposition research.

The group is out with a dossier Monday entitled “Barriers to Reform: The anti-immigrant and extremist money blocking progress in the Senate.” The report singles out a handful of Republican senators for what it describes as “disturbing” anti-immigration rhetoric and notes donations they’ve received from individuals and foundations who have also funded border hawk groups like FAIR and NumbersUSA, among others.

So who’s on the list of these supposed “barriers to reform” with “troubling histories on the issue?” Every Republican who wrote the immigration bill.

There are three takeaways here. First, this is more confirmation that liberal groups now constitute the biggest danger to the current push to enact much-needed immigration reform. The bipartisan “gang of eight” appears to have come to an agreement, and liberals’ decision to focus their attacks on the Republicans who helped craft the bill and garner broader public support for the effort will only serve to undermine trust among the group.

Second, if the left successfully derails this immigration reform effort, it will have derailed reform for some time to come, since lawmakers won’t want to take the political risk for nothing yet again. (Much the way the last two major pushes for national health care reform were 15 years apart, and even then required huge congressional majorities and some luck.) That may actually be what the left wants, since one scenario York describes entails the president using executive action to render existing immigration laws inoperable and unenforced.

Third, it will remind Republicans that those on the left who badger them about the need for compromise and cooperation are interested in neither, but rather advancing an agenda they will pursue with or without the GOP. Many–perhaps those in the Obama White House among them–see as the best-case scenario here not a compromise bill but a legislative effort that fails altogether that they can pin on the GOP and use to justify executive action. Those who actually want real immigration reform, like Rubio and presumably at least the others in the “gang of eight,” still have quite the task ahead of them.

Given that President Obama has twice already blocked immigration reform–once as senator and once as president–and that he and the left have successfully used executive action and the courts to circumvent the democratic process on other issues, getting the Senate to agree on legislative language on immigration will likely be just the beginning of the effort to fix America’s immigration system.