Republicans Pass Immigration And Border Bill, But it's Terrible And Won't Become Law Anyway

On Friday, a day before the House of Representatives leaves town for a five-week recess, House Republicans passed an immigration reform package. That may sound impressive. It’s not.

The $694 billion package only passed after an embarrassing day of infighting that culminated in House Speaker John Boehner pulling an earlier version of it from the floor due to lack of support from his own caucus. The final package focused almost exclusively on border security, and one of the bills bans President Obama from enforcing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has been celebrated by immigration reform activists. The Senate can’t possibly pass the legislation — it’s already gone on its own recess — and President Obama has pledged to veto it.

In other words, the passage of this legislation served, quite literally, no governing purpose at all. The entire goal was to give Republican House members a talking point when they headed back to their home districts for the next month.

It’s true that House Republicans can tell their constituents that they took action on immigration, even if it was a symbolic action, fated to have zero effect on actual policy. But because the package was so harsh on immigrants — it would involve the deportation of 500,000 immigrant children, for example — it’s most definitely not going to be well-received by immigration reform activists. The vote will assuredly be used against Republicans in the 2016 presidential election — which, by the way, they just became much more likely to lose.

The bill halts implementation of DACA, a 2012 initiative that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children to stay in the U.S. on a temporary basis if they go to college or enroll in the military. In July of 2013, Boehner expressed sympathy for such immigrants, calling it pointing out that “these children were brought here by no accord of their own.” Friday’s bill, which Boehner introduced and voted for, would deport those kids.

The vote itself was as dignified as anything else that happens in the House these days:

So, to recap: Republicans realize they need to make inroads with Latino voters, so they vow to take up immigration reform. But the House GOP refuses to pass a comprehensive package, not wanting to appear soft on immigration. So, Boehner introduces a smaller, more conservative bill to give the GOP rank and file — not to address the crisis, but to give his members a minor talking point. These members thank him by torpedoing the bill and forcing Boehner to make it even more conservative. It finally passes — after the Senate is out of town, and after the president has pledged to veto it.

It’s a nice, if depressing, illustration of the House GOP’s staggering counter-productivity, and the general inefficiency of Congress as a whole. Immigration reform was always going to be a tough lift in the House, but the manner in which it went down was particularly humiliating for GOP leadership. It certainly doesn’t suggest that, as some wide-eyed optimists keep suggesting, that the Republican Party has turned a corner on immigration.

If the GOP wants to win a presidential election any time soon, it can’t afford to keep alienating Latino voters, but if Friday’s vote is any indication, winning elections simply isn’t amongst the party’s priorities. Nor, it seems, is governing.