The GOP Cannot Agree on Legal Immigration

Last week, I wrote Paul Ryan Is Losing Control of His Caucus Over DACA about a revolt among House Republicans over DACA and the Dreamers. A discharge petition signed by two dozen Republican House members may compel votes on immigration bills that are supported by the Democrats. Watching that turmoil, Roll Call stresses that the divisions are really about what kind of legal immigration we want to have in our country.

At first glance, the Republican Party’s latest bout of immigration infighting appears to orbit around one key disagreement: Should so-called Dreamers be given a path to citizenship?

Look a little closer, and it’s clear the rift goes far beyond Dreamers. What Republicans are struggling with is a fundamental dispute over the core values of the U.S. immigration system and who may benefit. And the same disagreements that have previously doomed the prospects of a deal threaten to do so again in this newest round of negotiations in the House.

“The future of legal immigration is the sticking point,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the center-right National Immigration Forum. “There’s a Republican in the White House who wants to end immigration to the United States as we know it. There is not a majority of Republicans in Congress who support that position.”

Lately, I’ve been appalled to see ordinary citizens expressing support on social media for a policy of separating asylum seekers from their children. In many cases, they simply don’t know that it’s legal to show up at the border with your family and ask for asylum. But, when instructed about the law, a typical response is to sidestep that and offer excuses.

What’s clear is that there is substantial support for “ending immigration to the United States as we know it.” If it’s legal to seek asylum at our southern border, then that’s a problem that should be corrected. Until then, however, using the extreme deterrent of separating children from their parents is seen as a good way of dissuading people from seeking entry.

All efforts to appeal to decency fail. Ask them to imagine the emotions of a three-year-old who has lost his or her parents, and they just shrug. Whatever the president says it will take to keep those people out, that’s what they’ll get behind.

I don’t know what the percentages are, but this sentiment is robust enough on the right that I’m uncertain it’s true that “there is not a majority of Republicans in Congress who support” dramatically curtailing legal immigration. What they feel in their hearts doesn’t count for anything if they’re too fearful to vote that way.

What’s more certain is that there are enough Republican dissenters that, joined with the Democrats, there is a majority in Congress that is opposed to the president’s views.

The Republicans like to operate the House with the so-called Hastert Rule, which states that no bill will come up for a vote unless a majority of the Republican caucus supports it. The discharge petition is the only way to overcome that practice, and that’s why it’s gaining momentum.

As CNN states, the fireworks will begin tomorrow when the House reconvenes.

The reason the GOP cannot rally around bills of its own making is because its base, led by the president, is so hostile to non-whites that it just wants to build a wall around the country and keep everyone out. The entire concept of asylum is offensive to them if it involves people fleeing Central America or the Middle East.

This is a restoration of a virulently racist and callous version of America we had hoped to leave in the past, but fortunately there is still not a majority in Congress that’s willing to go back to the bad old days.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.