Artificial Republican Unity on Immigration

The grand irony of the president’s immigration action is that it was to a considerable extent the product of intra-Republican disunity on immigration policy–yet it will unite the GOP in real and fake outrage.

For all the yelling and screaming about “Emperor Obama,” his action was temporary and could be instantly revoked by a Republican president or superseded by legislation from a Republican Congress. But Republicans are in complete disarray on the subject, though there is a distinct trend towards “deport ’em all” nativism (though not the will to provide the resources necessary to “deport ’em all,” which would make actions like Obama’s impossible).

At present, though, the Establishment Republicans who privately view their nativist “base” as a bunch of destructive yahoos can join with said yahoos in an orgy of recrimination, mooting their agreement with the substance of what Obama is doing even as they pretend they believe the procedure is the greatest threat to democracy since yadda yadda yadda.

So the appropriate response of progressives to what we’re going to hear over the next weeks and months is: What do you propose to do about it? Can Republicans agree on an immigration policy (no, “securing the border first” is not an immigration policy, but at most a component of one)? What should this and future administrations do in the face of a gigantic gap between the number of undocumented people in this country and the resources to deal with them? Is using the fear of deportation to encourage “self-deportation” what you want? And if you do want to “deport ’em all,” then exactly how much money are you willing to appropriate for police dogs, box cars, whips, holding cells, and so on and so forth? Do you suggest we just suspend the Constitution and have us a good old-fashioned police state for a few years until we’ve deported 11 million people?

And if Republicans actually have the guts to go against their “base” and take on comprehensive immigration reform, there’s this little matter of the bipartisan bill that’s been languishing in the House for seventeen months. John Boehner could at any moment bring it up and pass it with Democratic votes. Why isn’t that at least on the table?

These sort of questions should be asked early and often. There’s no reason for progressives to be defensive about Obama’s action. Republicans made it necessary. Let them tell us exactly what they would do if they were in power.

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.