Commentary Magazine


Is Reid Bluffing on Border Security?

The bipartisan immigration reform seems to have gathered momentum in recent weeks, but the path to eventual passage is by no means clear. As Seth noted again yesterday, President Obama continues to walk the fine line between cheerleading for the legislation and statements that could be aimed at alienating potential Republican supporters for the bill. But Obama’s histrionics, such as his completely unnecessary dog-and-pony show for the media yesterday, may not be the real problem. As the Senate prepares to debate the measure and consider amendments, the real obstacle could turn out to be Harry Reid. The majority leader weighed in today on the bill and issued a warning that should worry the gang of eight that produced the reform package more than its opponents.

As Politico reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated on Wednesday that he would not allow the Gang of Eight immigration bill to require stricter border security measures merely in order to attract Republican votes.

“Our goal now is to pass the strongest legislation possible with as many votes as possible while staying true to our principles,” Reid said.

Staying true to principles is one thing, but a refusal to negotiate in good faith with Republicans who are looking to find a way to support the measure is quite another. Reid is on record calling Texas Senator John Cornyn’s amendment that would include a “hard trigger” on enforcement before illegal immigrants can hope for citizenship a poison pill. But unlike Reid, gang leader Chuck Schumer is keeping quiet while making it clear that he is ready to talk to GOP senators who remain on the fence and to come up with a compromise that will strengthen enforcement. Schumer is intent on getting a bill that will have the kind of broad-based support that will give it a chance of passage in the House of Representatives while Reid seems more interested in a result that would ensure it fails in the other body so as to give Democrats a chance to blame the GOP for failure.

Reid has a point when he says that Cornyn’s insistence on a 90 percent illegal border apprehension rate is probably unrealistic. Nothing short of a great wall that stretches along the length of the border accompanied by massive patrols would be enough to ensure that rate. But, as even gang member Marco Rubio has stated, the bill can stand to have its enforcement mechanism strengthened. What’s needed now is a willingness on the part of both sides of the aisle to compromise on a measure that would make the trigger provisions harder while not making them so tough so as to make it impossible to achieve.

While this may seem like the usual partisan jockeying back and forth that accompanies every legislative challenge, how each side handles the issue of border security is a true test of their sincerity on wanting a solution to a broken immigration system.

For Democrats, a willingness to toughen the measure will answer the question as to whether their goal here is to actually pass a bill or, as many Republicans have long suspected, an attempt to orchestrate a process by which the GOP can be blamed for failure. Schumer understands that while he has the votes for Senate passage, in its current form, the gang’s bipartisan compromise will have little chance in the House. While the two bodies are certain to pass versions that will be different and require delicate negotiations in conference, if the Senate version includes a tougher enforcement mechanism, a deal will be possible.

On the other hand, Republican motives are likewise suspect. If Republicans won’t agree to enforcement mechanisms that contain realistic goals, they will be rightly suspected of merely attempting to sabotage the bill. Just as Democrats act at times as if they are merely trying to maneuver the bill to failure, some conservatives appear to be more interested in preventing the passage of any bill that will allow illegals a path to citizenship than they are in actually fixing a broken system.

As Rubio has repeatedly stated, the talk about “amnesty” from the right is empty rhetoric. The real “amnesty” is the status quo that may not give illegals a way to citizenship but also offers no hope of resolving an untenable situation where more than 11 million persons are in legal limbo. The loose talk among conservatives that immigration reform will merely facilitate the legalization of millions of new Democratic voters merely worsens the Republican Party’s already dismal appeal to Hispanics. If House and Senate conservatives aren’t willing to compromise and accept a tougher enforcement regime in exchange for legalization, it will be possible for Democrats to claim their only goal was denying citizenship to illegals.

The rule of law that right-wingers claim to be defending in this debate isn’t enhanced by votes that will preserve the status quo. Likewise, Democrats who say they want to help resolve the dilemma of 11 million illegals must compromise on enforcement if their campaign is to be viewed as anything but a 2014 election maneuver. Right now, Harry Reid needs to prove that he really wants immigration reform and be willing to change the bill to toughen it up. If that happens, Republicans will face a similar test.

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