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The Senate passed an omnibus immigration bill last year, 1,000+ pages long and larded with goodies for every interest group that was riding the “comprehensive immigration reform” train. Like all such massive bills, it was a mess, and the House GOP dismissed it out of hand, insisting on smaller, more targeted steps.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) floated just such a piecemeal proposal last week. Its substance is flawed, but it’s an example of concrete thinking about what step-by-step immigration changes might look like. As a bonus, it puts the Democrats in a politically awkward position.
First, some context. The pro-comprehensive side argues that all immigration changes have to be stuffed into one big package for policy reasons – the various elements are inextricably connected, no change will work if done on its own, and so on. Hogwash. The omnibus approach is driven solely by political calculation. Every component of the coalition needs to get something out of the deal to stay in the game. Most crucially, the Hispanic Caucus and the hard left have vetoed any increase in skilled-worker visas for the tech industry unless it’s paired with a sweeping amnesty for virtually all 12 million illegal aliens.
But now it looks like the Republicans might retake the Senate (unless they screw it up), and the players are starting to explore new options. As one political science professor told USA Today, “Each of the coalition partners is unsure of how committed the other partners are.” Not long ago, the tech industry started making public noises suggesting it might cut its own deal with the GOP. This prompted a worried Senator Dick Durbin to send a letter last month to the industry begging them to stay in the comprehensive coalition. The Godwin-esque hyperbole of the following sentence suggests how desperate the pro-amnesty left is: “This ‘divide and conquer’ approach destroys the delicate political balance achieved in our bipartisan bill and calls into question the good faith of those who would sacrifice millions of lives for H-1B relief.” (My emphasis; the complete letter is here.)
That’s the context for Congressman Labrador’s comments. It almost looks like he’s toying with the pro-amnesty crowd, playing on their fear of being sold out by the tech industry. Without going into a lot of detail, he proposed repealing a re-entry bar imposed on people who’ve lived here illegally for more than six months in exchange for an increase in green cards for foreign students receiving graduate degrees in technical fields. His idea leaves a lot to be desired – it increases overall immigration when we should be cutting it instead, and includes no enforcement provisions, like universal use of the E-Verify screening system to ensure new hires are legal.
But as a political move, it’s already provoked the desired reaction. Frank Sharry, head of one of the most left-wing of the D.C.-based pro-amnesty groups, reacted angrily to Labrador’s proposal, telling the Washington Times, “This offer doesn’t come close to passing the laugh test. … they [Republicans] will feel the pressure of a changing electorate until they get on the right side of history.”
Sharry’s afraid for good reason. If the House passed something like Labrador’s proposal, Harry Reid couldn’t bring it up for a vote for fear it might pass and reduce Big Tech’s financial commitment to lobbying for amnesty. But the House GOP would be able to say, quite plausibly, that it had sent over a more realistic, targeted piece of legislation than the Senate’s 1,000-page monstrosity.
In any case, I say let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred targeted immigration proposals contend. Anything that exposes the fraudulent nature of the Senate’s “comprehensive” approach is useful.