President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats will likely deflect the agonizing Senate testimony from the parents of Kate Steinle and Joshua Wilkerson – who were killed by illegal immigrants – they way they usually do.
They’ll say that comprehensive immigration reform – legislation that would tighten border security, help employers verify the legal status of immigrant workers, and provide a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants currently here – addresses the concerns raised by the Senate testimony.
Unfortunately, they’ll add, it’s Republicans in the House of Representatives who are blocking comprehensive immigration reform.
US Presidential Barack Obama speaks on immigration reform in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Of course, the reason the GOP has opposed comprehensive immigration reform is not because it includes border security and employment verification, but because of the leniency (many call it “amnesty”) it bestows on illegal immigrants. Why should immigrants who break the law get a leg up (e.g., in the form of work permits) on immigrants who obey the law? And why shouldn’t U.S. citizens who break border laws get some sort of leniency, too?
Obama and Democrats understand how unpopular the pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants is, which is why they insist on bundling it in with the border security and employee status aspects of immigration reform. By making it an “all or nothing” proposition, they’re hoping to get Republicans to swallow the bitter pill. (In political hyperbole, these kinds of compromises are typically praised as “comprehensive legislation” or maligned as “hostage-taking,” depending on whether it’s a compromise you support or oppose.)
This has always been a dodge. The parts of immigration reform that are popular and that would stop deaths such as Steinle’s and Wilkerson’s in the future could be passed on their own, without the “amnesty” components, except that Obama would likely veto them if Democrats didn’t manage to stop them in the Congress. Which is just to say that Obama and the Democrats are obstructing “piece-by-piece” immigration reform just as much as Republicans are obstructing “comprehensive” immigration reform.
The GOP congressional leadership has been curiously reluctant to pass bills on border security and employee verification. If they did, Obama and the Democrats would have to either sign them into law or defend why they were blocking them in the name of citizenship for illegal immigrants. For whatever reason, Republicans haven’t been willing to exert that kind of political pressure.
But that may be changing. Public support is rising for “Kate’s Law,” which would impose a mandatory five-year prison term on anyone returning to the U.S. after being deported. The law is being advocated by Kate Steinle’s parents, an online petition for it has gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, and legislation has been formally introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.).
If Congress passes this law, Obama will either veto it and have to explain why he won’t pass something that would prevent more deaths such as Steinle’s and Wilkerson’s, or sign it and then explain why he won’t pass further “piecemeal” immigration reforms (like border security and employee verification) without bundling them in with “amnesty” provisions. That’s not a choice they want to make.
So, although the White House has promised to “look at” Kate’s Law, they’ll likely try to get it stopped in Congress.
It’s within their rights to do that. But it’ll be within everyone else’s rights to point out that it’s Obama and the Democrats who are playing the “sinister obstructionist” role in the face of a bill with plenty of popular support. And that could lead to the end of comprehensive immigration reform in favor of reform that's smaller and better.
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