Burying Immigration Reform and Muddling Responsibility: Don’t Believe the Boobirds

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

Another day, another “Immigration Reform is Dead” pronouncement. Now that declaration is being coupled with the jaw-dropping claim that both parties share the blame for the putative demise. Neither assertion holds up to scrutiny.

The number of times this issue has been declared dead and then resuscitated borders on the comical. I’m tempted to call immigration the cat of D.C. politics, but that would suggest these declarations of death and reincarnation are real. They are not; they are manufactured stories by Beltway papers that thrive on predicting winners and losers.

The Hill takes a turn at the coroner’s table today by publishing the second in a 2-part series imaginatively entitled: “How immigration died.” The article admirably pieces together the breakdown of the House Gang of 8’s bill negotiations. Presumably in order to make what is now an old story (the negotiations collapsed several months ago) still relevant, it suggests that the Gang’s failure to produce a bill killed immigration reform in the house. It asserts without any context or reference points: “Immigration reform is widely seen as dead in this Congress.”

Hmm, “widely seen as dead” with 13-plus months left in this Congress? Maybe the reporter should talk to the faith, immigrant rights and labor organizations who began a fast on the National Mall to raise the moral imperative of immigration reform. Or maybe to the individuals and organizations engaging in acts of civil disobedience in states all across the country. Or the 600 conservative faith, business, and law enforcement leaders who descended on the Capitol last week and are throwing down like never before in support of reform. Or the kids who tracked Speaker Boehner down at a diner this morning to tell him their heart-wrenching stories. Or the strong supermajority of Americans across the country who support reform with a path to citizenship.

Perhaps he should talk to the Republican Members themselves who are feeling the heat of this escalation, who see their reelection fates tied to passing immigration reform, and are calling on their leaders to act. Better still, maybe he should talk to the Republican leaders who continue to maintain that they have to do it this Congress and that they intend to do it, just not this year.

Even more disturbing than the effort to bury immigration reform by declaring it dead is the media’s bondage to false equivalencies. Yesterday’s report asserts that “[b]oth parties are responsible for the effort’s demise.” But the conclusion that Democrats could somehow be jointly responsible for immigration reform’s purported “demise” because the Gang of 8 negotiations collapsed belies the most basic fact about the legislative dynamics in the House: the GOP leadership controls what does (and doesn’t) go to the House floor and, as part 2 of the Hill piece reports, this leadership team never committed to endorse or move the Gang’s bill.

What’s more, the reasons for the leadership’s refusal to endorse the Gang bill are unsurprising given the litany of pre-conditions they have attached to the issue. They have monotonously voiced a commitment to “regular order,” but they have always known that it would be hard (impossible?) to pass a bill that legalized 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the hyper-conservative Judiciary Committee. And they have also voiced repetitious opposition to passing a “comprehensive” immigration reform bill, vowing instead to move the various components of reform through individual pieces of legislation. In fact, today Speaker Boehner indicated that he has no intention of taking a House product to conference with the Senate bill – yes, the bill that passed with a bipartisan supermajority.

So it is hard (impossible?) to square how the failure of a self-selected group of legislators to draft a comprehensive bill that the leadership never committed to endorse factors in to the blame game. Indeed, it is the Democrats who have created the conditions to move legislation across the finish line by introducing H.R. 15, a bill that now has 189 cosponsors including a handful of Republicans. That bill could pass right now if Speaker Boehner would bring it to the Floor.

The fact that the GOP leadership currently refuses to bring legislation to the Floor that could pass and is opposed to conferencing any House legislation with the Senate bill makes two things crystal clear. Immigration reform is not dead because the votes exist right now, today, to pass historic legislation. But if we reach the end of this Congress in December 2014 and immigration reform has truly died, there will be only one reason: a failure of leadership by House Republicans.

Our guest blogger is Marshall Fitz, Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund