Republicans: No Path To Citizenship, No Path To White House

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Rather than genuine comprehensive reform House Republicans are still hedging: but don't want Republicans to repeat their abysmal performance with Latino voters in the next presidential election.

[Commentary]

Even though the Senate seems ready to back serious U.S. immigration policy changes it's premature to anticipate support for "comprehensive" reform from House Republicans judging by comments during hearings this week.

Rather than genuine comprehensive reform some House Republicans are still hedging: they oppose far-reaching reform but don't want Republicans to repeat their abysmal performance with Latino voters in the next presidential election. Mitt Romney won only 27% of the Latino vote compared to Obama's 71%. George W. Bush won 44% in 2004.
 
House Republicans must start focusing on comprehensive reform: in any event path to citizenship is also the only path to The White House.
 
Going forward Republicans will never be able to pitch any part of their policy agenda to Latino voters so long as they are seen as the party standing in the way of reform. Even Marco Rubio won't save the party without serious reform.
 
Comprehensive reform is an economic imperative. The millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the country can become productive contributors to the economy if they come out of the shadows. Comprehensive reform should also unite families of immigrants from all over the world.
 
The business community is also desperate for high skill workers so is supporting reform that quickly allows more international students who graduate in math and the sciences to become eligible for U.S. residency and employment.  
 
There are currently many jobs that can't be filled because the skills set are lacking, according to the business community. This means the U.S. risks falling behind emerging countries like India, China and Brazil in the hi-tech industry.
 
There is genuine bi-partisan support for regularizing the status of graduates in math and sciences. But any comprehensive immigration reform will first have to deal with regularizing the status of the estimated 11 million to 12 million undocumented residents.
 
Many Republicans have philosophically opposed any bill regularizing the status of the millions of undocumented workers because they insist that it amounts to "amnesty" for people who have broken U.S. laws. But some Republicans are now ready to deal with the reality that there's no way to deal withreform without regularizing the status of these millions of residents. Mass deportations is not an option; nor is "self-deportation" as candidate Mitt Romney presposterously proposed.
 
The Senate seems ready to push a proposal that opens a path for citizenship after a journey of about 13 years: eight years to become permanent residents and another five for citizenship. President Obama supports the proposal but just in case it dies, he also has his own waiting in the wings.
 
Obama also wants any comprehensive reform bill to treat same-sex couples equally; to appease Republicans, his proposal would bar newly-regularized immigrants from being eligible for subsidies under the new healthcare law. He reportedly told immigration advocates on Tuesday that Democrats needed to pick their battles carefully.

Under the bi-partisan Senate proposal, backed by senators such as Marco Rubio (R., Fl.) and Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), undocumented immigrants would have to meet a number of conditions: they would pay a fine; they must not have criminal records; they must meet language requirements; they must pay back taxes; and, they would get on line-- meaning their status wouldn't be regularized until the people already ahead of them have been dealt with. 

The law would also let more immigrants into the country when the economy is doing well and fewer number of immigrants during economic downturns.
 
President Obama wants the process to begin immediately. The Senate proposal wants any law to become operational only after the borders are "secure" -- meaning the border between the U.S. Mexico.
 
But what does "securing" the border really mean? If Republicans insist on a vague definition it will amount to merely delaying tactics.
 
There are now: more than 20,000 patrol agents protecting the border between the U.S. and Mexico which is double the number from just six years ago; the total fencing built between the two borders is about 700 miles; and, there are more than 250 monitoring cameras. This has led to a dramatic drop in the number of people crossing the border illegally.
 
If Republican senators are serious about comprehensive reform they must accept a definition of "securing" the border that is attainable. For example, would they like to see more guards hired or more cameras and if so how many more?
 
And while Republican senators may be ready to support comprehensive reform House members aren't quite there yet judging by testimony this week.  
 
During the House hearings Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee famously asked: "Are there options that we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship?"
 
If there was another option Rep. Goodlatte would have proposed it rather than asking a question whose answer he already knows. Some Republicans are suggesting a path to permanent residency not citizenship. Republicans are mistaken if they think this will satisfy Latino voters.
 
Rep. Eric Cantor is now talking about a law that would regularize the status of undocumented residents who were brought to this country as children: that's what the Dream Act was all about. And that was pre-2012 presidential election. Cantor voted against the Dream Act in 2010.
 
House Republicans are in a dilemma. They are not focused on comprehensive immigration reform. They just want to do enough to ensure that they perform better with Latino voters in the next presidential election.
 
Maybe some Republicans think they can equivocate because 2016 is still four years away. But all eyes are on immigration reform today.  
 
President Obama will probably make comprehensive immigration reform and gun control legislation the focus of his upcoming State of the Union address.
 
If the House stands in the way of the Senate proposal Obama will send a bill bearing his own name to Congress. Republicans would be better off backing a bill that's bipartisan.  
 
The ball is in their court.

Republicans always have a remote chance to reclaim the White House; their chances without comprehensive immigration reform are nil.


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