Immigration Lame-Duck Fantasies Redux, Pt. 2

The Obama administration is threatening the equivalent of immigration fire and brimstone if Republicans don’t make a lame-duck session deal. Yet their idea of a deal seems to be: Give us what we want in an immigration bill or we’ll do it ourselves by executive action.

It’s a maximalist position that reflects no real interest in accommodation. And at this stage the administration clearly feels there doesn’t have to be any.

They are hoping that Republicans will not win control of the Senate, although that seems like an increasingly unrealistic wish. And they are also betting that Republican anxiety about Hispanic votes in the 2016 presidential race will force them to deal on the president’s term’s, regardless of whether they win a Senate majority or not.

It’s an understandable bet given the frequent and loudly expressed anxiety by a number of “establishment” Republicans after the president’s reelection — an anxiety that continues unabated in some quarters of the party. But it’s a bad bet given the real circumstances of the current immigration debate.

As its now framed, any lame-duck deal along the lines that the president would insist upon would give Republicans nothing more than the chance to tell Hispanic voters next year that they, too, care and present as evidence their capitulation.

What some Republicans appear not to realize is that standing on principle can be a source of respect, even if others don’t agree with you. It depends on how you disagree.

What Republicans have not done is to explain the reasons for their immigration positions. Why is it that many are opposed to doubling the number of visas every year, as Democrats want? Why is that resetting the balance between family reunification and educated, skilled immigrants a good thing? How can that be done without hurting the understandable interests of the core family unit? Why would it be a fair and good idea to enforce our immigration laws? And why is it a bad idea not to do so?

All of these questions have eminently reasonable and legitimate answers, even if others don’t agree with them. Yet those efforts at explanation must be made —repeatedly — so that they can gain visibility and traction and, yes, even some acceptance among those whom Republicans hope to woo.

The alternative is to jettison an immigration policy position in which you once believed, renouncing it in order to more successfully pander for electoral support. Ordinarily such behavior invites contempt and distrust, not votes.

Better to have a principled, respectful disagreement than an insincere, desperation-driven pseudo-agreement, whose only purpose is to get an issue, immigration, behind you so that you can then talk about the things in which you “really believe”.

And besides, who says that any immigration agreement, even on Democratic terms will “put the issue to rest”. There will always be a way to put the issue back on the table and up the ante if your opposition sees political gain. And they will.

Then, having publically demonstrated a lack of policy integrity, it will be even more difficult to summon up the will to recover it.

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