By asking Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform by the end of the year Thursday, President Obama would appear to have assured opposition from those in Washington who block everything the president proposes simply because he proposed it. But if those elements of the Republican Party won't do the right thing for the right reasons they may do the right thing for political reasons.
This summer, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States while tightening border security. The rate of illegal border crossings from Mexico into the United States has declined since President Obama took office, but these costly new border provisions were necessary to win the votes of Senate Republicans. Getting anything accomplished in government requires compromise, and the immigration law is a compromise measure.
House Republicans, as has been well-established, are opposed to compromise even if it hurts their party and their nation. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said Thursday that his boss was opposed to "massive" legislation that no one understands, even though the Senate law is quite clear-cut. Mr. Buck added that the House majority advocates a "step-by-step" approach to immigration reform, which translated from the political-speak, means passage of the new border security measures without the path to citizenship. That one-sided approach will not pass muster with the Senate or the president, nor should it.
Practical Republicans, however, know that a major reason the party took a pasting in the 2012 national elections is because Hispanics and other minorities, offended by the GOP's punitive immigration policies among other issues, flocked to Democratic candidates. Tea partiers made it clear during the government shutdown and debt ceiling default fiasco that the party's future doesn't concern them, but Republicans who do care about the party know that if the GOP blocks immigration reform it is inviting a repetition of 2012 in the 2014 elections.
Immigration reform means transforming people who are living in the shadows into tax-paying citizens, to the benefit of state and national economies. It means that the children of illegal immigrants will stop being punished educationally for circumstances they are not responsible for. If Republicans won't support immigration reform for these excellent reasons in the year ahead, maybe they will for practical reasons. Demographic trends indicate that congressional districts gerrymandered to keep minorities out won't withstand the population shifts of the years ahead.