The Centrifuge of An Immigration Bill

As we all wait anxiously for white smoke from the deliberations of the House “Gang of Eight” working on immigration reform, the competing, centrifugal pressures on these solons are becoming very clear.

In the Senate, Chuck Schumer and John McCain have warned that any bill seeking to skirt the central issue of a “path to citizenship” is a “nonstarter.” But in the House itself, the nativist-heavy Judiciary Committee has commenced its “piece-by-piece” approach to immigration policy by working on separate bills aimed at creating an agricultural “guest-worker” program and a toughened “E-verification” system for employers.

Reform advocates (including House “Gang of Eight” member Raul Labrador) say if legislation isn’t enacted this year it ain’t happenin’ any time soon. Republicans in both chambers keep chanting like monks that progress on immigration has to be slow-and-steady, lest elements of “the base” decide “elites” are pulling a fast one on them. It’s significant that the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, is raising the demonic specter of Obamacare in complaining about the possibility of a complex bill delegating significant authority to the Executive Branch getting hustled through Congress on a fast track.

All along I’ve been more pessimistic than most observers about prospects for this all working out, probably because of an inbred skepticism about the power of elites to work their will, particularly in today’s ideology-driven GOP. The game of three-dimensional chess going on in Congress right now over how and where the key decisions will be made isn’t exactly improving the odds of final passage.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.