John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Jump Ball on Immigration

Posted on February 6, 2014
US Navy 090317-N-5253T-016 Two men scale the border fence into Mexico a few hundred yards away from where Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCB) 133 and NMCB-14 are building a 1,500 foot-long concrete-lined dr

It is never easy to reform our immigration laws.

When Ron Mazzoli and Alan Simpson put together their comprehensive bill in 1986, they encountered pretty fierce opposition from all quarters.

Much of the fiercest opposition came from the business community which successfully stripped out some of the more punitive aspects of the enforcement provisions, making it more difficult for the government to crack down on the hiring of illegal aliens.

Simpson-Mazzoli has long been seen as a failure, which makes it all the more ironic that efforts to fix it have been stopped by immigration opponents.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why anybody would be opposed to fixing our broken immigration system.

But that is where we are today, with the loudest voices coming from the fiercest opponents of legal immigration.

In my own life, I look around and I see the faces of new immigrants and I can’t see how I would live without them.

I get my hair cut from a recent immigrant from Morocco.  The woman who helps takes care of our kids is from Ethiopia.  I have a good friend from New Zealand who is a comrade in arm in raising money for my son’s Catholic school.

I walk past  utility crew the other night (a bitterly cold night, I might add), fixing a broken water pipe, and they were all speaking Spanish.   Two folks from Mexico came to look at our leaking roof.

Our favorite Mexican restaurant is owned  by a guy from El Salvador.  My favorite restaurant's hostess is from France.

The list goes on and on.

And this is not a new phenomenon.  America has been built by wave after wave of immigrants, some legal, some not so legal.

In fact, there is some speculation that my grand-grandfather snuck in to the country from Ireland, and might not have waited in line to get his papers at customs.  Something about a ship that was quarantined and not letting any of the passengers disembark.

Not sure if that story is true or just part of the family lore, but I do know that every single American’s family tree includes somebody who came from somewhere else.

Those nativists who want to keep America for the Americans would probably be forced to self-deport themselves, if they wanted to be true to their family history.

But I digress.

Despite the essential role immigrants play in this country, and despite the fact that we have a broken immigration system that was established by a fatally-flawed law, it is still very hard to pass an immigration reform law.

Especially in the House of Representatives.

Since 1986 when Mr. Simpson, Mr. Mazzoli passed their version of immigrations reform and President Reagan signed it, Democrats have controlled the lower chamber for 12 years, while Republicans have controlled it for 16 years.  The margins have been tight on both sides, making it all the more difficult to get controversial legislation passed.

And for those 28 years, neither party has been able to fix the mess made by the Simpson-Mazzoli law.

Republicans tried hard when George W. Bush was President and the GOP controlled both sides of the Capitol.  But despite the best efforts of Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney and my former boss, Denny Hastert, it didn’t get done.

When Barack Obama became President, he had huge majorities in the House and the Senate, but despite his promise to use those majorities to finally fix our immigration laws, he focused on passing his signature health care law instead.  Now, he is blaming Republicans for holding up the latest reform effort.

Ironically, it is his signature health care law that is complicating House Republican efforts to make another go at immigration reform.

The Speaker stated earlier today that his Conference simply doesn’t trust this President to implement an immigration reform law, mostly because of how he has implemented Obamacare.

I understand why that the GOP doesn’t trust this President.   And I understand why Republicans are hesitant to move forward on immigration reform now.

After all, a whole media industry has sprung up attacking the Republican leadership for simply even thinking about passing an “amnesty” bill.

Apparently, nothing gets more page views than a “conservative” attacking a Republican leader, and nothing generates more buzz than loose talk about amnesty.

I understand, but I don’t agree with the attitude that we can and should wait until next year to pass an immigration reform bill.

To deal with the matter of not trusting this President, I have a pretty simple solution:  Make the major provisions of the law go into effect after he leaves office.

It will take at least a couple years to implement the new systems and write the new regulations any way.  Just delay that process until the President is out of office.

Some Republicans will ask:  how can we make sure that we trust the next President?  How will we know if Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush will do what we say on immigration?

It’s hard to predict the future with great exactitude, but I will tell you this:  If we don’t pass immigration reform this year, we will not win the White House back in 2016, 2020 or 2024.

Barack Obama might have been one of the weakest incumbents to ever run for reelection.  His approval ratings were soft, his accomplishments were controversial, his economy was terrible, and he was far out of the mainstream on most bread and butter issues.   Yet, he won in a walk, largely because of demographic changes that will only get worse for Republicans unless we change the party’s attitudes towards immigrants and immigrants’ attitudes toward the party.

And that can’t happen until we fix our broken immigration system.

We can’t have a conversation with Hispanics and Asians and Africans and Australians until we fix our broken immigration system.

John Boehner, the House Speaker, knows all of this and I bet you he agrees with what I am saying.

But the votes are the votes, and right now, he doesn’t have the votes, and he won’t bring this up for a vote until he gets more of his guys to vote with him.

That’s the reality of being in leadership in Congress these days.

At some point, you have to accept that reality.

That reality can change, but it can only change if the reality changes back home for Boehner’s Conference members.

What that will require is a massive effort by the business community, the faith-based community, the high-tech community, farmers, concrete manufacturers, home-builders and every other group that has a vested interest in fixing our broken immigration system to tell House Republicans to fix the law.

What’s needed is not loud protests, but quiet, confident, consistent and constant pressure from constituents that the time has come to fix our broken immigration system.

For the next three months, folks back home have to convince House Republican members that voting to fix the broken system is better politically for them than letting the broken system continue to be broken.

This is a jump ball.  It could go either way for House Republicans.

Most of the smart money is betting that Republicans will take a pass on immigration reform this year and that the effort will be resurrected next year.

I think that is a stupid bet.

Why would Republicans take up immigration reform in the middle of their Presidential primary nominating contest?  How stupid would that be?

If we don’t get immigration reform done this year, we won’t get it done next year, and if we won’t get it done next year, we won’t have a shot at winning the White House in the next decade.

Some folks might think that the status quo is just fine, that our current immigration system is fantastic, that Simpson and Mazzoli were so brilliant in their efforts that  reform of their majestic law is unnecessary.

The evidence would suggest otherwise.

Proponents for immigration reform have their task in front of them.  To change the reality, they have to change minds.   And to change minds, they have to get to work.

So, get to work.

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