Why GOP-Led Immigration Reform's Unlikely

The House GOP will soon release a set of Republican “principles” for immigration reform — not a piece of legislation or a formal proposal, but general guidelines to direct the GOP in crafting an eventual immigration reform proposal, which will take the form of several different bills. Speaker John Boehner said that the Republican caucus will meet to discuss these “principles” on Thursday, and that they’ll be unveiled to the public later in the day. It’s a positive step toward forging some ultimate compromise with Democrats on immigration reform. It also probably isn’t going to work.

After the 2012 election, Republicans realized that they needed to expand their appeal beyond old white men if they wanted any hope of winning future presidential elections, and saw the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill as the quickest way to accomplish this. The Democratic-controlled Senate jumped on this suggestion, and passed bipartisan immigration reform last year. That put the ball in House Republicans’ court, which prompted them to twiddle their thumbs and do absolutely nothing on immigration for the next year. Which pretty much brings us up to date.

Why didn’t the House act? Only Boehner knows for sure, but one Republican lawmaker has a guess:

“Part of it, I think — and I hate to say this, because these are my people — but I hate to say it, but it’s racial,” an anonymous GOP legislator told BuzzFeed Thursday. “If you go to town halls people say things like, ‘These people have different cultural customs than we do.’ And that’s code for race.”

GOP Rep. Steve King’s comments last year comparing immigrants to dogs are another clue as to why House Republicans haven’t acted on an immigration bill — especially one that provides a path to citizenship, which according to Nancy Pelosi, is a necessary component to bring House Democrats on board.

Here’s a prediction: Regardless of what these “principles” say, the House GOP will have no problem passing the part of reform that mandates tougher border security measures or stricter guidelines for deportations. Then, when it comes time to pass the part of the bill with a path to citizenship, or some form of amnesty, or anything that in any way benefits undocumented immigrants in any way, Republicans will balk, and the talks will break down.

It’s very easy for Republicans speak passionately about the necessity of passing immigration reform. It’s a lot harder to pass it, especially when a good chunk of their members are from districts that don’t take kindly to people who, in the words of that anonymous Republican, “have different cultural customs than we do.”