Conventional wisdom has it that the border calamity has doomed immigration reform. There is, however, a potential silver lining to the crisis.
Until now, there has been an incentive for all sides to act in counterproductive ways. GOP hard-liners thought they could do nothing on reform and please their base. The president imagined he could grandstand and threaten unilateral action. And too many on the reform side did not take seriously the very real concern about border security preceding legalization. Now one thing is clear: Congress and the president can no longer do nothing. There is a genuine security and humanitarian crisis that is going to be solved only by legislation and honest enforcement of the law. Moreover, having been rebuked at the Supreme Court, the president does not have much support to keep acting unilaterally simply because Congress is stubborn. President Obama’s irresponsible rhetoric has no doubt encouraged many of those now flocking to the border.
The solution is not complicated: Congress funds additional border enforcement; the president fully implements the newly funded enforcement mechanisms. The legislation specifically bars the president, absent congressional action, from reducing enforcement or granting limited protection from deportation for any group of immigrants. Relatively noncontroversial issues such as an increase in H-1B visas, visa extensions for foreign students graduating with advanced degrees, E-Verify and a visa overstay program can be implemented. If all this is completed, a path for legalization to commence in January 2017 could begin, provided those here for a significant period of time pay taxes, a fine and demonstrate English competency. Such people would not be eligible for a range of government benefits for a considerable period of time.
Is it ideal? No. Will extreme anti-immigrant types on the right still pine for a police state in which 11 million people are separated from families and dragged from their homes to be deported? Probably. And, yes, this president is no longer trustworthy when it comes to implementing duly passed laws, but neither is there logic to refusing to begin a legalization process until after he is gone.
Perhaps with a crisis bubbling over the border, all sides can figure a way to resolve the stalemate. Then again, everyone can continue with the political posturing until a humanitarian or security crisis turns into a full-blown disaster — which, given the state of the debate on this issue, is entirely possible.
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