John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Fleeting Gain, Lasting Worry

Posted on September 23, 2014
John Boehner official portrait.jpg

"John Boehner official portrait" by United States House of Representatives - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

(This originally appeared in The Hill.)

As the Senate wrapped up work before departing for the elections, Republicans forced a vote on the issue of immigration, wanting to put Democrats on record on the controversial issue of the president’s executive authority to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

It’s obvious that, through the short-term lens of the coming election, this proved to be a smart political maneuver. In fact, four vulnerable Democrats sided with the Republicans and against the president because they were so worried about the political volatility of the vote. 

This follows a vote by House Republicans before the August recess that gave the president some additional money he had requested to deal with the so-called border crisis — but it included strings attached that proved to be so tough on immigrants, it attracted the vote of noted anti-immigrant activist Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Neither of these votes has necessarily attracted national attention. The American people have a notably short attention spans, and they have turned to worrying about Ebola, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Ukraine and the continuing troubles plaguing the NFL.

But to voting blocs that care deeply and personally about these issues, these votes have left an indelible mark. And while that might not seem to matter in the coming election, where Republicans have the advantage of running against an unpopular president, it will matter in the long term.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) gets the long-term implications, which is why he said last week that immigration reform would be good for economic growth. If that statement seems to be discordant with anti-immigration rhetoric of Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), that’s because it is. Boehner has long been seen as sympathetic to the cause of immigration reform, both from a political and policy perspective.

And of course, he is right. Fixing our broken immigration system would be good for economic growth. It would be good for wage growth, good for increasing tax revenue, good for making communities safer and good for a host of other reasons.

I reject the charge that fixing our broken immigration would lead to amnesty. Actually, I think if it is done correctly, it will make it far less likely that people would come here with the expectation that they would eventually get citizenship.

A smart immigration reform plan would start first with the so-called Dreamers. Kids who came to the United States through no fault of their own should not be punished for the sins of their parents. Plenty of these kids (and now adults) are hard-working, industrious, important cogs in our economy. Kicking them out of the country, back to a place where many of them don’t even know the language, is not only irresponsible, it’s immoral.

Second, we need to find a way to give legal status to the people who are here. It does not have to be citizenship. In fact, I think a special path to citizenship is not wise politically and not achievable in this current environment. But, there has to be a way to get the 11 million or so people who are here out of the shadows of the economy and into the mainstream. Giving these folks legal status gives them the chance to fight for their rights, which will have an impact on wages. Illegal immigration depresses wages. Legal immigration increases wages.

Third, we have to come up with a common-sense way to secure the border. More resources might be necessary, but that shouldn’t immediately be assumed. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has produced a bipartisan bill that would make the border more secure. It’s a far better approach to solving this problem than the border surge that was a key element of the Senate bill.

In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney won the state of Georgia, but he only got 53 percent of the vote. The reason? Hispanics and Asians who have flooded into the state voted against his anti-immigration rhetoric of the 2012 primaries.

Republicans can’t afford to alienate this growing voting bloc for much longer. There may be a short-term gain, but in the long term, it will lead to political pain.