Viewed from the standpoint of a year or even six months ago, Friday night’s House vote to deport some half-million immigrants who arrived illegally in the United States as children would have been unthinkable. After the 2012 election, an official Republican postmortem urged the party to embrace comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans in both chambers followed through on this advice. No less orthodox a figure than Paul Ryan toured around Chicago with Democrat Luis Gutierrez, where he was greeted enthusiastically by a mariachi band.
Comprehensive immigration reform has suffered a slow, painful death for months on end. For a while, it seemed Republicans might instead try to force Democrats to accept the quarter-of-a-loaf compromise of the Dream Act, which would legalize illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children (and, thus, personally blameless). Even that gambit foundered. The worst-case scenario then seemed to be that Republicans would do nothing at all to address the broken immigration system or the gulf of mistrust among Latino and Asian voters.
Now they have settled upon a course of action even worse than the worst-case scenario. The cause, of course, is the child-migrant crisis, which is driven by a combination of a badly written 2008 law and endemic violence in Central America, but which Republicans blame instead on President Obama’s granting of temporary amnesty to some Dream Act–eligible immigrants. When House conservatives revolted against a border security measure, the party leadership mollified them by holding a vote to nullify Obama’s dispensation for the Dreamers.
The House bill stands no chance of being enacted into law. Indeed, the sheer political illogic of the maneuver is baffling. House Republicans were facing a medium-sized debacle caused by their failure to pass any border security bill. This left them with the prospect of going into August recess deprived of a decent talking point.
The cure they settled upon is a thousand times worse than the disease. A party that began the Congressional term hoping to move left from Mitt Romney’s immigration stance has instead moved toward Michele Bachmann’s. (Bachmann — who, along with Steve King, helped draft the House bill — pronounces herself thrilled.) The party’s new dogma will potentially entangle its next nominee in an even less humane debate than the one that ensnared Romney. At the very least, it has put 216 House Republicans, many of whom will one day seek higher office, on record for a policy most Latino voters consider disqualifying. The aye votes include potential 2016 presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who is not likely to be greeted by friendly mariachi bands any time soon.
It is understandable that the party’s Congressional wing, based mostly in safe, deep-red districts, has failed to craft a national strategy for its 2016 candidate. But the House’s course of action has fallen well below “unhelpful” and instead verges on outright sabotage. How do they think this is going to work out for them?