In his home district, Speaker John Boehner offered an explanation for why the House has not moved an immigration bill. “Here’s the attitude: ‘Ohhhh. Don’t make me do this. Ohhh. This is too hard.’” He continued: “We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to. . . . They’ll take the path of least resistance.”
We do not doubt that some large number of Republican congressmen fit Boehner’s description. They agree in outline with the immigration bill that the Senate passed last year, which offered legal status to many illegal immigrants, created new guest-worker programs, and promised to tighten enforcement of the immigration laws to block new illegal entrants. They would like something along those lines to pass, but fear that voting for such a bill would anger some of their voters.
To the extent Boehner is right, though, the system is working as it should: Fear of political repercussions is keeping congressmen from voting for unwise legislation. The Senate bill is too flawed to be the basis for useful legislation. By legalizing illegal immigrants before we are sure enforcement is working, it runs the risk of drawing in more illegal immigrants in the future. It dramatically and recklessly increases low-skilled immigration, which is bound to impede assimilation. Its guest-worker programs formalize rather than solve part of the problem of illegal immigration: They invite a large class of people to contribute their labor to the U.S. but not to participate as equals in our culture and politics.
What Republicans should do, then, is to drive a stake through the heart of this legislation and move on immigration once the powerful groups behind it have given up on this model of “reform.” At that point it would become possible to discuss a more sensible set of policy changes that waited to see how enforcement worked before implementing any large-scale legalization, and refrained from increasing low-skilled immigration altogether.
This course of action would require taking on the Chamber of Commerce, La Raza, most newspaper editorial boards, and so on. We will not attribute the Speaker’s failure to take this course on a desire to take the path of least resistance; he may, after all, genuinely disagree with us. We will even, with a superabundance of charity, assume that Boehner would extend the same courtesy to those who disagree with him on this issue.
What we cannot do is redeem the spectacle of a man who treats his fit of pique as though it were an act of leadership.