Senator Marco Rubio has taken a lot of hits from the right for his decision to support immigration reform. But the torrent of abuse isn’t likely to abate as he seeks to persuade House Republicans to realistically address the problem posed by the presence of 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. As Politico reports, after a few months of taking a lower profile on the issue after the Senate passed the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan compromise, Rubio is back on the offensive arguing that if the House doesn’t act, President Obama will use executive orders to impose his own solution on the problem.
While Obama has given no indication that he will use the same tactic that effectively legalized the so-called DREAM Act kids, it is possible the administration would use the House’s failure to pass any bill to issue new executive orders that would do the same for all illegals. Yet if Rubio thinks this prospect will persuade the anti-immigrant caucus to play ball, he’s the one who’s dreaming. There are powerful arguments to be made in favor of the approach adopted by the Gang of Eight or even one that might separate the border security measures from those that give illegals a path to citizenship that the House might consider. However, there is very little reason to believe House members who seem ready to oppose any solution and are hostile to legal as well as illegal immigrants will be moved by the threat of an Obama executive order. If anything, that prospect may only caused them to dig in even deeper.
The problem for Rubio and other advocates of reform goes a lot deeper than the skepticism voiced about an omnibus Senate bill that is in some respects a typical example of what happens when congressional compromises are forged. The devil here is not so much in the complicated details as it is in the absolute refusal of a critical mass of the House GOP caucus to pass anything that would deal with the reality of the 11 million illegals already in the country. The prejudice against immigrants that has been exposed by Rep. Steve King’s much publicized rants about drug smugglers has helped fuel a backlash against the Senate bill and Rubio.
Rather than being persuaded that it is obviously in the interest of Republicans to write their own bill rather than have Obama issue an executive fiat, it is likely that conservatives will only use that threat as extra motivation to double down on their opposition. Indeed, by saying that Obama will do it himself if they don’t pass a bill, the Florida senator will likely only increase the opprobrium being rained down on his head from some on the right who claim that he is doing the Democrats’ dirty work.
Rubio deserves great credit for speaking sense to Republicans on an issue that is not only good policy but also good politics. But like most good deeds, this one hasn’t gone unpunished. Rather than understanding that the Senate bill or some House version of it provides the best opportunity to deal with border security—the issue they’ve highlighted for years—most conservatives have stuck to a position that any attempt to provide a path to legalization for illegals is “amnesty” and beyond the pale. Since everyone knows 11 million illegals won’t be deported, they seem to prefer an unacceptable status quo to reform of a system badly in need of it.
Having taken a stand on principle and gone this far on behalf of a good cause, Rubio shouldn’t back down. Whether or not Obama uses his ability to select which laws will be enforced and which will be ignored to alter the landscape on the issue, immigration opponents aren’t likely to be convinced to compromise. Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal reports today, some moderate Democrats are bolstering the GOP opposition to reform, further lowering the chances of getting a bill passed. That will further encourage anti-immigration Republicans that they have no reason to bend.