Editorial: Is immigration reform on its last legs in GOP-controlled House?

Published: Friday, Jul. 12, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A

To see how far out of the mainstream the House Republican caucus has fallen, just look at the immigration debate.

Even conservatives such as Grover Norquist have urged the House to pass immigration reform that "secures our borders, allows for a market-driven future flow of legal immigrants, and provides a tough but humane process to earned legal status for those undocumented immigrants who wish to stay in the United States and continue to be productive members of society."

Yet House Republicans coming out of a closed caucus meeting on Wednesday were unified in saying that the Senate immigration bill that passed on a bipartisan 68-to-32 vote last month is a "non-starter." It will not get a vote in the House, because it includes a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people who are in the country illegally.

Instead, Congressman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, is authoring an enforcement-only bill. No discussion of legalization or citizenship. It would allow states to determine their own immigration laws.

Gowdy denounces what he calls "immediate citizenship" for 11 million illegal immigrants "all at once before you do anything else."

Other Republicans echo that. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, says the 11 million should follow the current process of legal immigration; he denounces any attempt to have "millions of illegal immigrants cut in line" in front of others who have been "patiently waiting."

Have they read the Senate bill?

There is no immediate citizenship for anybody. Under the Senate bill, about 800,000 children who were brought illegally by their parents (so-called "DREAM Act kids") and 1 million agricultural workers would have a path to permanent legal status – a green card – and eventual citizenship if they seek it.

And the other 9 million? Under the Senate bill they would apply for "provisional" (temporary) legal status and work authorization after paying fines and back taxes. Only when existing lines have been dealt with would they be able to apply for a green card. That's a path to citizenship of 15 to 20 years.

That's because the existing "line" is 4.4 million people long – due to limited numbers of visas. For example, a child living in Mexico who has a parent who is a U.S. citizen has been waiting in a 20-year line; a skilled worker from India in an 11-year line. These waiting lines are outrageous and a big driver of illegal immigration.

How does such a long process for existing lawful immigrants, much less the 11 million in the country illegally, meet the aim of integrating immigrants into the American mainstream?

House Republicans simply are not grappling with the problem of long lines.

Nor do they acknowledge the gigantic buildup at the southern border. Twenty years ago, it had 3,500 Border Patrol agents; today 18,500. We have 651 miles of fencing. In hopes of drawing Republican support, the Senate bill would add 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, 18 new surveillance drones, more fencing. Yet this over-the-top $46 billion "border surge" has not been enough to bring House Republicans to the table for sensible negotiations.

Americans can only hope that the House "Gang of Seven" – Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and John Carter and Sam Johnson of Texas (Raul Labrador of Idaho dropped out), and Democrats Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Xavier Becerra and Zoe Lofgren of California – will come up with a reasonable package.

The House Republican caucus alone simply is not making viable proposals that can get to the president's desk by the end of summer. It seems they want the issue to linger for the 2014 elections. Better to have some real accomplishment to bring to voters. Americans already have waited far too long for an immigration overhaul.

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