Moderate Republicans, who’ve been in position to break gridlock in Washington on several key issues the past several years, are beginning to finally use that power on one of the most vexing problems facing the country: immigration. If they follow through on their plan, all of us will be better off and a little sanity will have returned to the political process.
Those Republicans are pushing a discharge petition to force a floor vote in the House. That could mean passage of a bipartisan solution that would protect Dreamers, those undocumented immigrants brought into the country when they were young. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and other members of the GOP House leadership have been trying to prevent such a vote, not because they believe it would fail, but because it has a good chance of passing.
Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy believe such a vote would be poorly received by the GOP base, imperiling Republican chances of retaining control of the House after the midterm elections this fall. In other words, the party’s fate is more important than the country’s future.
Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner, made a similar calculation in 2013 when he refused to bring to the floor a vote on a bipartisan immigration package that received 68 votes in the Senate. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would have provided a path to citizenship that would have taken up to 13 years to complete for most undocumented immigrants; streamlined the legal immigration process; and strengthened the employment verification and tracking system to prevent people from overstaying their visas. Had Boehner allowed a vote in 2013, many of the immigration problems we are still fighting would have been solved or be much closer to resolution. For instance, President Donald Trump wants $25 billion for a border wall. The 2013 bill Boehner passed on included $46.3 billion for border security, a promise to double the number of Border Patrol agents and a doubling of fencing along the border.
Moderate House Republicans are only a few members away from forcing a vote on a much more modest solution that centers on the fate of Dreamers. One House bill would provide temporary protection for Dreamers while focusing on increased security and a cut in legal immigration. Another would offer a path to citizenship for Dreamers with no serious enforcement upgrades. Or the House could pass a combination of a path to citizenship for Dreamers, limits on their ability to sponsor their parents and some border enhancements.
This is not a partisan issue, at least not among everyday Americans. A CNN poll in 2016 found that 88 percent of Americans supported comprehensive immigration reform that includes an earned path to citizenship. Just a few months ago, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 86 percent wanted recipients of President Obama’s deferred action program to remain in the country.
Congress has been the holdup. Moderate Republicans in the House have an opportunity to change that – and should.