Boehner Says: Border Security Comes First. With a Postscript by Coretta Scott King

My own view, often expressed, is that when it comes to immigration “reform,” the House should just say No. But, for whatever reason, John Boehner has played his cards very close to his chest, and many fear that the fix may be in. This morning Boehner spoke with reporters on immigration, and what he said sounded generally reassuring:

“The American people expect that we’ll have strong border security in place before we begin the process of legalizing and fixing our legal immigration system,” the Ohio Republican said….

Asked what specifically Boehner meant when he said “legalizing and fixing our immigration system,” Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, said Boehner was “just stressing the importance of securing the border and getting the interior enforcement system working first.”

Boehner also said the House will act and noted he will talk with the Republican Conference to chart a path forward.

“We’re going to have a conversation with our members Wednesday on how we would move ahead. We have a broken immigration system. We have undocumented workers here in record numbers. We just can’t turn a blind eye to this problem and think it’s going to go away. It is time for Congress to act. But I believe the House has its job to do, and we will do our job.”

Earlier Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urged Boehner to ditch the “Hastert rule” and take up the Senate immigration bill — something Boehner has vowed not to do — as well as the Senate farm bill.

“Eventually he will be forced to take up a more bipartisan measure — or the country will be left with no immigration reform at all, the worst possible outcome,” Reid said. “The Speaker should dispense with the posturing and delay, and do the right thing now. Take up the Senate farm bill now. Take up the Senate immigration bill now.”

Boehner has scheduled a meeting with House Republicans on Wednesday to discuss the issue. Presumably “ditch[ing] the Hastert rule” will not be on the agenda. If Boehner is serious about writing legislation that provides for adequate border security and, far more important, effective interior enforcement–not only on the books, but, as Boehner said, “working”–before any amnesty takes place, it is very good news. The Senate will never go along with an enforcement-first approach, so, unless the Republicans fold in conference committee, there would be no significant immigration legislation at all. Which would be far better than accepting the Senate’s disastrous approach.

It wouldn’t hurt to contact your Republican Congressman, if you have one, and urge him or her to buck Boehner up on Wednesday.

“Enforcement first” is obviously a better approach than the Senate’s “amnesty immediately, enforcement never” bill. But this distinction, obvious though it is, misses the more important point. The biggest problem with the Senate’s bill is not its feeble enforcement provisions. Rather, it is the fact that it radically changes our legal immigration system for the worse, by authorizing somewhere between 30 million and 60 million new legal immigrants over the next ten years, 90% of them unskilled. All the enforcement in the world will do nothing to stop this onslaught on America’s working class. Unless the House is completely missing the boat, it will not only put enforcement first, it will make changes in the legal immigration system that are the exact opposite of the Senate bill, and will be far more popular with the American people–not to mention being far better public policy.

In 1991, Coretta Scott King and other leaders of the Black Leadership Forum, wrote a letter to Orrin Hatch protesting against a proposal to drop sanctions against employers who hired illegal aliens. That letter said, in part:

Nothing has changed since 1991, except that the unemployment numbers are far worse today. And legally imported workers competing for unskilled and semi-skilled jobs will drive wages down, and unemployment up, just as surely as illegal ones. Let’s hope that House Republicans understand the bigger picture, and, if they are going to come up their own immigration bill, make it one that helps, rather than hurts, American workers.


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