Boehner’s Dilemma

House Speaker John Boehner is very likely to pass an immigration reform bill. Its content is what is unknown.

The Speaker’s desire to act on reform is based on a vocal consensus of the national Republican Party leadership that correctly advises him that the GOP cannot be the impediment that blocks reform. Stung by the 2012 overwhelming Latino vote for President Obama, all the Republican leaders grasp that the bill must pass in some form. It is important that Boehner remove the issue from the national stage by passing the bill — ending an irritant that keeps Latinos Democratic.

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The perfect solution for Republicans is the approach charted by Texas Senator John Cornyn — immigration reform with the emphasis on border security first. Cornyn’s approach demands that the border be already sealed before any legalization begins. He articulates conservative fears that amnesty will trigger its own flow of new illegal immigrants into the U.S. unless they are physically barred from entering. We do not need millions more in the purgatory of limbo waiting for Congress to act. Sealing the border needs to come first.

But while Boehner can probably get the moderates in the GOP House caucus to fall in line behind the Cornyn approach, he may be undone by defections on the right. As far right as the Cornyn amendment is, it still allows for legalization once the border is secured. There is an irreconcilable block among House Republicans that rejects any form of amnesty or legalization, whether the border is sealed or not. Their defections over even the Cornyn Amendment would force Boehner to seek Democratic votes to pass immigration reform in any form.

But, here Boehner runs into a vicious circle: The more Democratic votes he needs, the more he will have to move the legislation to the left. And the more he does that, the fewer Republican votes he will attract. Eventually, he may be left with the Senate version of immigration reform, which makes a mockery of border security by throwing resources at the problem but requiring no solution before legalization begins.

Boehner’s reassurance that he will not bring a bill to the floor without a majority of his own caucus behind it offers no consolation. A majority of the House Republicans would likely support such a compromise, leaving more than a third of the Party behind. A Senate-like bill would sail through the Conference Committee and get Obama’s signature in a heartbeat. It just won’t solve the immigration problem.

If Obama wanted to seal the border, he has adequate resources to do so. He just doesn’t want to. He would like the flow of illegals into the U.S. to continue, secure in the expectation that each new shipment assures liberal Democratic victories as far as the eye can see.

Only legislation that requires border security before Obama can deliver legalization to his Latino constituency will impel the reluctant president to act. But defections from the extreme right of the Republican caucus may make it impossible to pass such a bill in the House.

Will the new Latino citizens be Democrats? Who knows right now? They will not be voting until 2026 at the earliest. So that’s the wrong question.

Will the GOP get credit for the passage of immigration reform? Again the wrong question.

The passage of immigration reform will clear the way for Latinos to move to the Republican Party. Attracted by its social policies, repelled by Democratic fiscal views and entrepreneurial to the core, the current Latino citizens and voters will once again be in play if immigration reform passes.

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