Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

February 6, 2014

Do they mean what they say?

(Continued)

That, too, is all standard issue. But then, in the very last sentence of the principles, comes the key to the whole thing: “None of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.”

It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of immigration reform in Congress depends on whether Republican leaders mean what they say in that single sentence.

If they do, and the GOP insists on actual border security measures being in place — not just passed, not just contemplated, but actually in place — before illegal immigrants are allowed to register for legal status, then there will likely be significant Republican support for such a bill. (It might well be a deal-killer for most Democrats, but that is another story.)

If, on the other hand, GOP lawmakers wiggle around the clear meaning of the principles’ last sentence to allow legalization to begin before security measures have been implemented, then the party will be back to the same divisions and animosities that have plagued Republicans since the terrible fights over immigration reform in 2006 and 2007.

Right now, it’s impossible to say which way GOP leaders will go. But there are signs that the wiggling is already underway.

In a recent interview with MSNBC, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a leading advocate of reform, described a system in which illegal immigrants could come forward and receive probationary status while — not after — border security work is being done.

“You can be on probation, and you have to satisfy the terms of your probation while the border’s getting secured,” Ryan said.

That — legalization first, followed by completed security — is an entirely different scenario from the one described in the principles. If Republican leaders insist on legalization before security measures are implemented, they’ll likely lose many, many rank-and-file conservative lawmakers.

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