The House Republican leadership, meeting recently at the party’s winter retreat, kept its new immigration reform “principles” as secret as the nuclear codes. Old immigration hands on the Hill, who might have been expected to play a big part in producing the document, were barely consulted. When Speaker John Boehner’s office wanted a knowledgeable Hill staffer to take a look at the work in progress, the person was invited into a room to examine a draft — no copying or note-taking allowed. And the contents remained a mystery to almost all GOP lawmakers until Boehner unveiled them at a members-only meeting on Jan. 30.
Boehner had his reasons. The principles were going to be the first step in what could well be an ugly and divisive immigration fight inside the House GOP. So why let the opponents get a head start?
Now it’s clear those opponents will have a lot to work with. What the GOP calls its “Standards for Immigration Reform” is almost all boilerplate, mostly indistinguishable from the Senate Gang of Eight “framework” that Boehner and other House Republicans rejected.
There’s the standard talk about how the U.S. immigration system is “broken.” There are calls for more border enforcement. More interior enforcement, like employment verification and an entry-exit visa system. Provisions for guest workers. Special consideration of young immigrants. It’s all been seen before.
And then there are by-now familiar guidelines for the handling of the 11 or 12 million immigrants in the country illegally. “These persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S.,” the principles say, “but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).”