Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Parties must accept reform of immigration law is on way

U-turn: John Boehner

There are times it seems that Republicans simply do not want to occupy the White House ever again. After the shellacking that Mitt Romney took among Latino voters in 2012 (with Obama capturing 71% of the Hispanic vote), it would seem a no-brainer that the Grand Old Party (GOP) would move mountains to woo that increasingly vital bloc of voters to their side.

Last week, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, did the exact opposite, performing an abrupt about-face and announcing that immigration reform isn't likely to move forward.

The reason Boehner offered is the alleged lack of "trustworthiness" of Barack Obama. Obama, the Republican from Ohio insisted, simply can't be counted on to implement any new immigration laws that might be fashioned.

Citing Obama's pledge to begin using the Executive Order option to move policy issues when Congress blocks him, Boehner claims that Obama is hell-bent on ruling by imperial fiat.

Boehner's real problem is the increasingly entrenched Tea Party rump within his party that is vehemently opposed to anything resembling a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants – including roughly 50,000 Irish – in the US.

Last summer, the Senate passed a bill that would give undocumented immigrants a pathway to legal residency in 10 years, and the chance at full citizenship three years after that.

The highly conditional pathway would only be offered once fines and back taxes were paid as well.

But Boehner, fearing a revolt by House GOP hardliners, has since refused to allow the House to vote on any immigration bill.

House committees have, in fact, approved five separate immigration bills. But Boehner hasn't allowed any to be brought to the full chamber for a vote.

Last year, Obama, along with several Democrats, signalled a willingness to compromise to move the immigration ball forward.

And two weeks ago, Boehner announced the party would be open to allowing undocumented immigrants to "live legally and without fear in the US" so long as they paid hefty fines and back taxes, passed background checks and developed "proficiency in English and American civics."

He also insisted that there could "be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation's immigration laws. That would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law".

Some analysts believe Boehner and others are leaving the door open for millions of the undocumented to apply for permanent legal residence – a green card – with the sponsorship of an employer. They could then subsequently apply for citizenship.

It seemed like progress was being made. Then came Boehner's sudden retreat.

The problem for Boehner and the GOP is that the demographic calculus of immigration isn't going to change.

Last year, according to US Census figures, non-whites made up half of the population under five years old.

Non-whites are projected to be the majority in America by 2040 and paying attention to their concerns is a matter of political survival for both parties.

And with immigration reform so important to Latinos and Asians in particular, immigration reform is inevitable.

It's only a matter of time.

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