Immigration Policy and Slippery Slopes

There are a lot of different ways you can look at the votes yesterday in the U.S. House over John Boehner’s effort (successful on the House floor, but doomed to be vetoed) to hold Homeland Security appropriations hostage to abandonment of the president’s executive actions on immigration. Many observers seem transfixed by the “rebellion” by 26 House Republicans–11% of the Caucus!–against the amendment that not only sought to defund the president’s latest action, but undermined any policy other than maximum deportations. Others note that most of these “rebels” voted for final passage of the bill. Still others, like WaPo’s intrepid immigration policy handicapper Greg Sargent, think the underlying shift to the right by the GOP is the more salient issue:

Today’s action goes further than merely defunding Obama’s recent executive actions deferring the deportation of immigrants brought here as children (the 2012 DACA) and of millions of parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents (the more recent DAPA).

It also defunds the implementation of the 2011 Morton memos. The key Morton memo doesn’t formally defer deportation or extend work permits, which Republicans have denounced as crossing from standard prosecutorial discretion into rewriting the law. Rather, it merely lays out general enforcement guidelines that direct agents and lawyers to prioritize the deportation of serious felons, repeat offenders, and serious threats to national security over that of longtime residents, minors, the elderly, or the unhealthy. This was in keeping with Obama’s shift in priorities away from the deportation of low-level offenders with jobs and/or longtime ties to communities, and towards serious criminals and the border.

Today’s GOP action, at bottom, is effectively a repudiation of those basic underlying priorities. That would appear to mean Republicans think enforcement resources should be re-focused back on the deportation of low-level offenders — with jobs and community ties — from the interior. At least, it invites the question of whether that’s what Republicans think.

As we use to say back in the salad days of the DLC, when Bill Clinton was gearing up to run for president, that nothing defines a party–and changes its image for better or for worse–like its presidential candidates. And so Greg is right that all these murky maneuverings in the House are interesting in part because the gigantic GOP presidential field is going to have to react to them:

Does today’s House GOP stance have the support of Jeb Bush (who has explicitly called for recognizing the moral complexity of illegal immigrants’ plight); Mitt Romney (who presumably learned the pitfalls of a hard line on immigration); and Marco Rubio (who championed the Senate bill)? Spokespeople for all three have not answered emails asking that question.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that these three worthies are conspicuous in being absent from the list of confirmed participants in Steve King’s January 24 Iowa Freedom Summit, in which it may prove difficult to arrive and leave with a slippery position on immigration policy (Mike Huckabee, another guy with an indistinct profile on the issue, is attending). Or maybe not. But at some point it’s going to become obvious that the GOP as a party is poised right at the top of a slippery slope that leads to an explicit position that 11 million undocumented immigrants need to be herded up and shipped across the border at any expense (the position of those who, according to Sargent, GOP congressional aides derisively call “the boxcars crowd”).

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.