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Avoiding GOP Immigration Reform Self-Sabotage, Pt. 1: The Primaries Trap!

Written by Stanley Renshon

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Rushing to pass a Republican immigration bill in the House before August makes no policy or political sense for a number of GOP Immigration Reformreasons. There is little time left to reach agreement among Republicans. The congressional elections are only four months away and Republicans will be a much better position to pass real immigration reform should they win majorities in both the House and the Senate. And even if they fail to win the Senate, delaying an immigration bill until after the new House convenes in January 2015 means that the 2013 Senate Democratic bill is essentially dead and is very unlikely to be revived in its present form.

All of these occurrences should be good news for real immigration reform and ordinary Americans.

However, if passing an immigration bill in the House before the congressional midterm elections – a bill that would trigger a House-Senate conference that would be dominated by Senate Democrats and their Republican allies – would be dumb, waiting until the midterm elections are completed and then passing an immigration bill in the "lame-duck" session would be absolutely stupid.

The "We must do it now!" bad strategy takes two forms. The first suggests that after the Republican primary season is over would be the optimal time for House Republicans to pass an immigration bill. Ron Bonjean, a former top House aide and Republican strategist, is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, "Once Republican primary season is over, there is an opportunity to tackle immigration reform front and center."

John Feehery, another GOP strategist and veteran of Capitol Hill, is quoted in the same article as saying that those in favor of moving ahead with a House immigration bill this year are "keeping their mouths shut until after the primaries." He goes on, "It's going to happen. Not because lobbyists in Washington say it should happen, but because influential people think there's a broken system that needs to be fixed."

Of course, the fact that the system is "broken" and needs to be fixed says nothing whatsoever about how, exactly, it should be "fixed". It also says nothing about why Republicans shouldn't wait until after the midterm elections, a matter of a few more months. And it doesn't take up the questions of whether they, and the country, wouldn't be better off if they did so, and why that would be true.

Moreover, while the rationale behind this bad idea is probably not designed to inflict substantial harm to the Republican Party, it nonetheless is tailored made to do so.

The rational is this: It is critical for the Republican Party to get an immigration bill behind them so that they can court Hispanics in the 2016 presidential election and beyond. To do this they need to pass an immigration bill immediately, if not sooner.

Since time is of the essence, and there's not much of it left before the midterm elections, Republicans have to work with any bill available and that means passing their own bill or the House Democrats' version of the 2013 Senate Democratic bill. They often don't specify, leaving the impression that any immigration bill will do. In doing so, they are endorsing the idea of getting to a House-Senate committee agreement, regardless of the risks involved, of which there are many.

The "pass an immigration bill after the primaries are over" meme adds an additional layer in that it pits conservatives against "establishment" Republicans, to the benefit of neither.

Mr. Renshon has been a Center Fellow since 1999 and an expert in the areas of citizenship, national identity and the psychology of immigration. He has testified before Congress several times on these matters and has assisted government net assessments in these areas.

More of Mr. Renshon's writings can be found on his CIS blog here.

Source: Center for Immigrartion Studies

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