In some senses, the Senate immigration bill, S.744, is a contradiction of all of the modern day caricatures we have about Washington. A bipartisan group of eight senators, including political heavyweights John McCain (R-AZ) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), authored the bill. It is progressive in content and implementation, a seemingly genuine response to the immigration problem that this country faces. It cuts costs: According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it would reduce the deficit by $1 trillion over 20 years. It focuses on the people by giving millions of non-legal immigrants the chance to obtain legal residence in this country. Most surprisingly, enough Senate Democrats and Republicans actually agreed on it to get the bill passed submitted it to the House by a vote of 68-32.
The “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” focuses on increasing the technological sophistication of our border monitoring techniques, increasing visa allotments for more educated foreign nationals and permitting existing illegal immigrants the chance to legally legitimize their residence in the United States. One thing that everybody agrees on is that the current situation, with constant inflows of illegal immigrants, is unacceptable. S.744 is, for once, a real legal attempt to solve the persistent limitations of the United States’ current immigration framework.
Here is the rub: The bill will never be signed into law.
Despite the fact that the bill was co-authored by Republicans and Democrats and that 92 amendments were passed on the bill to satisfy the concerns of various Senators, there is no chance that the bill will see the President’s pen. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) says he will obey the Hastert Rule, which states that as long as the Republicans control the House, any bill will require the support of a majority of the Republican caucus in order to be moved to the floor.
The Hastert Rule is a clever political tool that both Republicans and Democrats often employ. Republicans, who control the House, internally vote on a Speaker of the House so that they can all agree on one person to vote for in the full Speaker election – even if a minority of House Republicans do not agree with the Speaker, they will still vote for Boehner rather than risk handing the speakership to the Democrats. Thus, Boehner’s obedience to the Hastert Rule ensures that he cannot be overthrown by his own caucus. With Boehner assaulted from both the left (the Democrats) and the right (the Tea Party), he needs to make sure he keeps his support. But at what price?
With a majority of House Republicans against the bill, Speaker Boehner insisted that “The House is going to do its own job in developing an immigration bill.” Although the Tea Party is now somewhat muted, Boehner needs to hold to the Hastert Rule nevertheless. The importance of their support was made clear to him when, despite coming to an agreement with the President on the terms of the debt ceiling, he could not get the House to vote his way some years ago.
This much-needed reform is going to go totally unrealized unless the Republican majority gets unseated in the midterm elections, or the Democrats agree to support Boehner in any Speaker election – and they would rather wait for the next midterms and watch the Republicans embarrass themselves in the meantime. The reality is that the reason the law will not be passed has almost nothing to do with the law and everything to do with political divisions in Washington. There are so many conflicting interests at play that the real problem trying to be addressed is entirely overshadowed by politics. Millions of men and women who came to this country pursuing freedom and happiness, but their chance at getting a real shot at being American has been pulled away by the hard reality of political dysfunction. It such a shame that this has become a normal political expectation for Americans.
It seems like we sometimes forget that the words United States were once considered to be radical because they brought Dutchmen, Englishmen and Frenchmen together under one government. And Americans did this because they considered the immigrant an American and not a foreigner. This country’s vitality was based largely in its openness to new Americans. They are great inventors and business people, with over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies being founded by immigrants or their children. We have come so far in some respects, but in others we have completely degenerated. The state of our political system is genuinely dire and the story of this bill harshly juxtaposes for us what could be against what is. Immigration reform is a reminder that there is hope and then there is government, not the other way around.
Anthony Ghosn welcomes questions, comments and fresh ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.