Many conservatives believed that the just-passed intelligence overhaul bill was the best opportunity to enact meaningful immigration reform, especially relating to the issuance of drivers’ licenses. I think they were right. But the immigration-related provisions (except for a few which were utterly non-controversial) were removed from the bill in the Senate. Susan Collins explains:
“I think there is considerable support for overhauling our immigration laws and taking a look at the driver’s license issue, as well as other issues raised by Congressman Sensenbrenner,” Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, said yesterday. “But the fact is that those provisions, which were highly controversial and several of them were opposed by the administration, would have been poison pills for this bill.”
So now immigration reform will come up as a separate package, without the political weight that came from being part of the difficult-to-oppose intelligence bill. President Bush says he will work with House Republicans to press for immigration reform soon after the first of the year:
“I look forward to working with the Congress early in the next session to address these [border security] issues, including improving our asylum laws and standards for issuing driver’s licenses,” Mr. Bush wrote.
A number of House Republicans, most notably James Sensenbrenner and Tom Tancredo, are determined to force the immigration issue. The Democratic response was voiced by Nancy Pelosi:
During a pointed exchange on the House floor last night, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the reforms “egregious” and “extraneous” and signaled that Democrats would oppose them. “I have serious concerns,” the California Democrat said. “I hope Republican leaders won’t tarnish the achievements of today” by bringing up the immigration reforms again after the new year.
Pelosi is channeling Tom Daschle with those “serious concerns.” I’ll bet her brow was furrowed, too. When a Democrat has serious concerns, it means his position is unpopular (or would be, if people knew what it was), and he is hoping for enough cover from the press to be able to hang on.
I’m not pessimistic about the possibility of meaningful immigration reform, if the President is really behind it. Controlling illegal immigration is wildly popular with voters from both parties; the only reason why nothing has been done is that both parties have sold out the voters. If the Republicans are willing to make themselves the party of rational immigration policies, they will only benefit politically, especially since Democratic politicians–not voters–are so far out of touch on the issue that the Republicans can look like heroes without doing anything very controversial.