A Misbegotten Showdown on Immigration

I appreciate the commitment to principle, but will Republican’s really fail to take advantage of their majority [again]?
By Jason L. Riley
March 3, 2015 7:12 p.m. ET

Leave it to Republicans to do the right thing after exhausting all other options.

Speaker John Boehner announced Tuesday that the House would vote to fund the Department of Homeland Security, even though some members of his caucus thought Republicans could withhold funding to protest President Obama ’s immigration policies and not pay a price politically. They were kidding themselves. Republicans may control both chambers of Congress, but their political opponents still control the news media.

The DHS drama has played out just as President Obama hoped it would when he moved unilaterally in November to protect some five million illegal immigrants from deportation. He knew that Republicans would turn on one another, that his liberal friends in the Fourth Estate would play up the party division and that the GOP would be cast as anti-immigrant villains. The same conservatives who like to mock the president’s intelligence are making him look like a genius.

A group of about 50 Republicans in the House insisted that a showdown over DHS funding would be a political winner for the party. But they never had the votes in the Senate to force Mr. Obama’s hand, and nothing in his history as president suggests that he would otherwise reverse course. Whether the issue is net neutrality, Common Core education standards or cutting a nuclear deal with Iran, this is a White House that has had little use for the legislative branch. Even when Mr. Obama has deigned to go through Congress, as he did with ObamaCare, he later selectively enforces his own laws.

Republican lawmakers are understandably frustrated at Mr. Obama’s immigration end-run, but as Mr. Boehner told his caucus this week, the place to push back is the courtroom, where a federal judge has stayed the order. “The good news is that the president’s executive action has been stopped, for now,” said the speaker in a closed-door meeting, according to Politico. “This matter will continue to be litigated in the courts, where we have our best chance of winning this fight.”

The reality is that President Obama will be in office for two more years. If Republicans want to show voters they can govern and deserve the presidency in 2016, they ought to pick fights that they can win. At some point, the party also will have to acknowledge that it has an image problem with Hispanic voters that these public spats only exacerbate. Threatening to partially shut down an agency responsible for the safety of the homeland at a time when Islamic terrorists are recruiting in Brooklyn and threatening to blow up malls in Minnesota might be a sign that some Republicans have been driven to distraction over the immigration issue.

The Hispanic voting bloc is large and growing fast—not because of immigration but due to higher birthrates among Latinos already here. Sealing the border will not alter this demographic trend, nor will making a fetish of demonizing millions of economic migrants who are here illegally. Lawmakers who are fed up with illicit border crossings should focus on fixing the legal-immigration system, which will give people an incentive to use it. Part of Mr. Boehner’s problem is that some of his colleagues want the issue, not a solution.

Another reason that Mr. Obama was unlikely to bend to the restrictionists is that most of the country supports his goal—though not his tactics—of ultimately granting legal status to most undocumented aliens. A Pew poll taken shortly after the president issued his immigration order put support for it at just 46%, which is one reason he waited until after the midterm elections to act. But the same poll reported that 70% of Americans, including 53% of Republicans, said illegal immigrants in the U.S. “should have a way to stay in the country legally.”

A Fox News survey taken last year found even stronger Republican support for legalization. When asked if the U.S. should “allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, but only if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check,” 68% of all respondents and 60% of Republican respondents said yes.

Despite efforts to scapegoat illegal immigrants for everything from crime to unemployment to health-care costs, polls have consistently showed that most Americans, regardless of party affiliation, back comprehensive immigration reform that includes some form of conditional amnesty. The fact that immigration hard-liners and talk-radio hosts don’t even speak for most Republicans on immigration is not something you read about very often, but it’s yet another example of a liberal press corps determined to make the GOP look bad.

Mr. Riley, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and Journal contributor, is the author of “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” (Encounter Books, 2014).



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