Byron York Gooses a Ghost

The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York is an influential conservative reporter who has been regularly drifting over into pure opinion-land in arguing against the GOP Establishment’s commitment to a comprehensive immigration bill. But he really loses what’s left of his balance today in a column entirely devoted to asking a question that answers itself: if Ted Cruz were to succeed in completely gutting the Senate Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, would he then support comprehensive immigration reform?

Seriously, that’s York’s line of inquiry:

Cruz’s amendments [in the Judiciary Committee markup of the Gang of Eight bill] were designed to 1) eliminate the legalization-first, security-later structure of the Gang of Eight bill while still creating a way to legalize those now here illegally; 2) increase certain types of legal immigration; and 3) remove what might be called the moral hazard of rewarding those who came here illegally with citizenship and federal benefits. “In introducing amendments, what I endeavored to do was improve that bill so that it actually fixes the problem,” Cruz told me. “I think an overwhelming majority of Americans in both parties wants to see our broken immigration system fixed, wants to see the problem solved, the border secured, and our remaining a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants. Given that bipartisan agreement outside of Washington, my objective was not to kill immigration reform but to amend the Gang of Eight bill so that it actually solves the problem rather than making the problem worse.”

Now if you accept the commonly understood definition of “comprehensive immigration reform” to include a path to citizenship, not just “legalization,” much less “legalization” triggered by a long series of conditions, then Cruz (and following him, York) is defining the “immigration problem” in a different way than both Democratic and Republican reform advocates have been talking about for years. Cruz (and York) are certainly free to reject comprehensive reform if they wish, but repackaging that rejection as just a different way to go about comprehensive reform is a real shuck–particularly since, as York acknowledges, Cruz’s position or anything vaguely like it would kill any hopes of enacting a bill in its tracks.

So what’s the idea here? “Rebranding” the term “comprehensive immigration reform” to resemble its opposite? Making it clear that Ted Cruz isn’t Tom Tancredo? Beats me. But I’d keep my eye on this kind of discussion on the Right, which if nothing else seems aimed at goosing the ghost of an immigrant-friendly conservative movement whose unfriendliness to actual immigrants is just a small matter of legislative technicalities.

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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.