Why Passing House Immigration Bills in the Next Congress Matters, Pt. 4

The period between the 2014 congressional election and the 2016 presidential election is an essential period when Republicans should act on real immigration reform. The passage of real reform legislation by the House, or if possible by the House and (Republican) Senate, would establish that Republicans are serious, reform-minded, and in touch with the repeatedly expressed wishes and concerns of the American public. The passage of real immigration reform bills during this period would also deliver a blow to the “anti-immigration” smear that has been a staple of Senate immigration bill advocates, although it won’t keep them from trying what they’ve successfully used so often in the past.

A primary purpose of passing real immigration reform measures in the House is that whatever their eventual legislative fate, they would ignite a debate on narrative grounds far different from the debate that took place when the 2013 Senate bill was the only model being discussed.

You can’t beat something with nothing is true in poker, true in immigration policy reform, and also true in the battle of policy narratives. A new and different immigration debate brought about by Republican immigration policy options would transform the immigration debate narrative by refining and broadening it.

During the 2013 immigration bill debates, basic distinctions like those between legalization and citizenship came into focus and allowed both legislators and the public to expand how they thought about their options. Legalization without citizenship became a midway point between the “round them and send them home” fantasies that many Democrats attributed to conservatives, and the every-illegal-alien-must-have-a-pathway-to-citizenship meme that Senate Democrats and their allies pushed.

Legalization without citizenship is not a perfect solution or midpoint, but it does represent a starting point for considering solutions through which real immigration reform might be achieved.

Perhaps only some legalized illegal migrants would be offered a path to citizenship. Perhaps that path would be conditional on accepting real consequences for having broken American immigration laws. Perhaps illegal migrants who are eligible for legalization might be barred from sponsorship of all but immediate family members. Perhaps they would be enjoined from government welfare programs like EITC, or others.

Real consequences, and not pseudo ones like “paying back taxes,” can help to give help to legitimatize and make more palatable the hard decisions that will have to be made.

In real immigration reform it is the package that counts as much as individual items.

That is one reason, among many, why the recent attempt to shoehorn an immigration relief bill for some illegal migrants already covered by DACA into the National Defense Authorization Bill is such a poor idea. Aside from the merits and drawbacks of allowing DACA recipients to earn a “pathway to citizenship” by enlisting and serving in the armed forces, it is a one-off effort designed to demonstrate that at least vulnerable Republicans are willing to “do something.” It does not balance out the advantages that come with amnesty with having to give up anything in return.

Any one-sided bargain in which illegal migrants gain the benefits of legalization without having to give up something serious in return will not and should not gain legitimacy. Acknowledging wrongdoing, and being willing to accept consequences for having done so, is an important part of the legitimacy of any prospective immigration amnesty deal.

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