The Great Republican Con Over Immigration


U.S. Border Patrol officers cut through razor wire near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Jan. 31.

U.S. Border Patrol officers cut through razor wire near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Jan. 31.

U.S. Border Patrol officers cut through razor wire near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Jan. 31.

Somewhere in the back rooms of Congress where secrets are kept, somewhere at Washington cocktail parties the average person is never allowed to attend, Republican lawmakers are laughing at their voters.

They’re laughing at how dumb their voters are, how easy it is to dupe them into believing anything they tell them in public, no matter how absurd the spin, no matter how ridiculous the hyperbole. Somewhere, maybe these lawmakers even admit to each other that they can’t believe it themselves: how voters continue to support them while refusing to do what their voters want them to do, even if it’s the number one issue in an election year, even when refusing to do it entirely for political reasons.

“For months, Republicans have shouted from the rooftops about a migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border and how President Joe Biden needs to act to address it, insisting the flow of migrants is an urgent national security threat,” HuffPost recently reported.

For months, a bipartisan group of senators has been working on an immigration reform bill that would address this “national security threat.” But now that promising piece of legislation, introduced Sunday night, is all but dead.

Why? Because Republicans vowed that they wouldn’t support any bill that gives Biden any chance to take credit for addressing immigration and the southern border, especially after spending all their energy these last three years attacking him as a failure on the issue.

“There is no reason to agree to policies that would further enable Joe Biden,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told Fox News.

“I’m not willing to do too damn much right now to help a Democrat and to help Joe Biden’s approval rating,” Rep. Troy Nehls, a Texas Republican, told CNN.

Naturally, Donald Trump had been pressuring GOP lawmakers not to pass it.

They got their wish. Senate Republicans tanked the $118 billion bipartisan effort Wednesday by a vote of 49-50 — far short of the 60 ayes needed to take up the bill — largely along party lines. The bill also contained $60 billion in wartime aid to Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel.

Sometimes the GOP catches the car.

Trump had a good reason for wanting the bill to fail. If it had passed and become law, he would no longer be able to terrify his army of trembling snowflakes with the idea that the brown people are coming to take their jobs, their homes and their communities, all while committing crimes and hooking their children on fentanyl. He’d have had nothing left but Hunter Biden’s laptop, his lies about a stolen election and his play-the-victim card as he occasionally blurted out, “Oog! Me tough on China.”

Every other cudgel he’s used against Democrats is dropping away. The economy is improving, energy prices are lower, inflation has eased, wages are now outpacing inflation, the stock market is soaring, the job market is strong and life post-COVID is returning to normal. Even if you tried to twist those realities in your favor like a Cirque de Soleil contortionist, polling datahas begunto show that Americans are feeling a whole lot betterabout the economy than they were even two months ago. Consumer confidence has surged to its highest level in two years while inflation expectations fell to their lowest level in three years. That’s how these voters are feeling no matter how you twist the economic data.

So what will Trump have left? Making his 2017 tax cuts permanent? They only increased the federal deficit by nearly $8 trillion. That increase is the third largest, relative to the size of the economy, of any U.S. presidential administration. It’s nearly twice as much as what Americans owe on credit cards, student loans, car loans and every other type of debt other than mortgages, combined, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that extending those cuts after they expire in 2025 would add $3.5 trillion to the deficit through 2033.

Are any Republican deficit hawks (or pretend deficit hawks) up for that?

On the campaign trail, Trump had called the bipartisan effort a bad bill. “I’d rather have no bill than a bad bill.”

He probably doesn’t even know what’s in it. Nor did other critics who couldn’t wait to tub-thump about it before the measure was even written.

Responding to critics last week, Sen. Jim Lankford of Oklahoma, the lead Republican on the committee crafting the bill, said, “There’s no way to read the bill. Right now, there’s internet rumors is all the people are running on.”

Of course, that didn’t seem to change any critic’s mind once the text of the bill became public Sunday evening.

“This is worse than bad negotiation,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) posted on social media that night. “It’s betrayal. The Senate GOP can still stop it if 41 will stand together.”

Forty-one being enough to prevent a 60-vote filibuster-proof passage for any bill in the Senate.

He didn’t stop there, letting loose a barrage of posts, calling the bill asinine, an elaborate practical joke,” a “hot mess,” dead on arrival and a “crap sandwich.”

Lee is either taking his social media cues from Donald Trump or he lost a lot of money on the NFL playoff games.

“It’s interesting that he said he’s already opposed to it,” Langford said during a “Fox & Friends” interview on Fox News. “He needs three weeks to be able to read it, but he’s already opposed to it.”

My question for Utah voters: Does it make sense for your senator to say he’s opposed to a bill he hasn’t read? Didn’t conservative lawmakers trash then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2010 for saying, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it”? (Something purposely taken out of context by her critics.)

So how can you oppose what’s in a bill if you haven’t read the bill?

When asked about the assertion by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) before the bill’s release that it was dead on arrival, Lankford said, “Unfortunate that he would step out and be able to see that right away before, obviously, he had had a chance to be able to read it as well and to be able to go through it.”

So now we’ve gone from opposing anything that would help Joe Biden and hurt Donald Trump to “it’s a bad bill even though we haven’t read what’s in it.”

Yet, if the bill had already become law, said Langford during that Fox News interview, the border would have been “shut down every single day the last four months.”

“Are we, as Republicans, going to have press conferences and complain the border is bad and then intentionally leave it open after the worst month in American history in December?” he added. “Are we going to just complain about things, or are we going to actually address and change as many things as we can?”

It’s worth noting that the National Border Patrol Council, which endorsed Trump twice and has been a fierce critic of Biden’s presidency, had endorsed the bill:

“The Border Act of 2024 will codify into law authorities that U.S. Border Patrol agents never had in the past. This will allow us to remove single adults expeditiously and without a lengthy judicial review, which historically has required the release of these individuals into the interior of the U.S.”

Even Steve Doocy, a longtime thorn at White House press briefings, seemed incredulous in his interview with Tom Emmer, the House majority whip from Minnesota:

Doocy: It’s not perfect, but this is the best thing we’ve seen in decades. So are Republicans going to say that the Border Patrol union and acting [Customs and Border Protection] chief are wrong?

Emmer: Well, look, they can have their perspective…

Doocy: It’s their jobs, Tom!

Boy, when you’ve lost Steve Doocy…

“Well, it’s our job to actually make sure the laws will accomplish what we’re seeking to do,” Emmer responded.

So what did the bill seek to do?

The bill would have given the president or the director of the Department of Homeland Security the authority to shut down the border at ports of entry if unlawful crossings hit an average of 5,000 encounters a day or more in any single week. That would allow border agents to quickly send migrants back to Mexico across the Rio Grande, an expulsion authority similar to the Title 42 public health order. That 5,000-a-day metric would also apply to suspending asylum appointments and processing.

“It’s definitely not going to let a bunch of people in,” Lankford said. “It’s focused on actually turning people around.”

So, Sen. Ted Cruz’s bellowing critique about the bill allowing 5,000 people in a day every day and adding up to millions is incorrect. (A New York Times fact-check of Republican claims about the border is useful here.)

The plan would add thousands of new hires: nearly 3,000 additional border agents, customs officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff, and 4,300 new asylum officers, attorneys and support staff to reduce the more than 2.5-million-case backlog of asylum seekers in immigration courts. The bill contains additional funding for deportation flights and detention centers, and for charitable organizations to provide humanitarian aid for recently arrived migrants. However, that $1.4 billion in humanitarian aid only kicks in after additional deportation flights and detention centers are established and more border security personnel are hired.

The deal raises evidentiary standards for asylum seekers, all of whom would undergo criminal background checks, and shorten the legal review process of their cases to just six months. In most cases, they would be deported in just days if they failed to meet the higher standards.

There is even money set aside to build more of Trump’s little border wall, the one Mexico was supposed to pay for, while pathways to citizenship for young immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) are not part of the deal.

It would seem these are terms conservatives would find quite palatable. No, the bill isn’t perfect — no bill can be — but it would represent a seismic shift in border enforcement policy.

“To get this kind of border security without granting a pathway to citizenship is really unheard of. So if you think you’re going to get a better deal next time,”  warned Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), “you’re not.”

It’s not like they got anything while Trump was in office. He had four years in the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress for two years, with no immigration deal to show for it. What makes them think they’ll get something if they win everything in November? Democrats will have little political incentive to support any hard-right bill in such a scenario, not with a 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate. That’s largely why the House measure from 2023, H.R. 2, hasn’t gotten much traction.

“We have a unique opportunity here,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “The timing is right to do this.”

Or not. Therein lies the difference between sanity and lunacy and why GOP lawmakers might be laughing.

Do conservative voters want immigration to be addressed? Yes. If a bill was crafted in Congress to address many of the problems at the border, would they support it? Yes. Are they going to vote for a person who says don’t let that bill become law? Yes.

In a sane world, the questions should be more like this:

  • Do you want to see immigration and border issues addressed? Yes.

  • Would you support a bill that addresses those issues? Yes.

  • Would you support lawmakers who refuse to support a bill that adequately addresses those issues? No.

  • Would you support lawmakers who have the opportunity to do something about immigration and the border and refuse to do so because they’re playing politics? Hell no.

Then why are you supporting them? That would be like supporting someone who yells “My house is on fire!” and then blocks firefighters from extinguishing the blaze.

In a Jan. 27 social media post, House Speaker Johnson instead tried to blame the president.

“President Biden falsely claimed yesterday he needs Congress to pass a new law to allow him to close the southern border, but he knows that is untrue. As I explained to him in a letter late last year, and have specifically reiterated to him on multiple occasions since, he can and must take executive action immediately to reverse the catastrophe he has created.”

Does the speaker not understand that it is the role of Congress, not the president, to pass legislation affecting policy? Does he not understand that this “catastrophe” is not a sudden phenomenon but one that is years in the making? Congress has failed to pass a single piece of meaningful immigration legislation since the Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986 despite repeated bipartisan efforts with strong presidential backing. You can look it up: 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2018, 2021. And in nearly every instance — not all, but nearly — it was right-wing hard-liners who torpedoed those efforts with their all-or-nothing, refuse-to-compromise insolence.

Has the speaker not asked why Congress has failed repeatedly to pass any legislation addressing anything regarding immigration and the border? Why hasn’t he? He’s been in Congress long enough. What has he done to move that needle? Anything? Nothing? Worried about job security if you don’t show enough loyalty to Trump maybe, like so many of your Republican colleagues?

If this is a crisis desperately in need of corrective action, why would his caucus deny passage of a bill offering some of that corrective action? If passing a bill to correct a crisis can wait 12 months until their Lord and Savior gets back in office, it must not be that much of a crisis. Right, Mr. Speaker?

Or as Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the Democratic negotiator of the bipartisan legislation, put it: “If it’s good for the country but bad for Donald Trump, what do you choose?”

There’s a joke in the radio business (I spent many years as a broadcaster), where stations would routinely bring in consultants to fix a problem. The joke was that they never fixed the problem because if they did, there’d be no more problems to fix and they’d end up putting themselves out of business.

These congressional Republicans are exactly like that. If this bill had become law, they wouldn’t have had a problem to complain about because it would’ve been fixed, at least enough to remove it from the spectacle of a political campaign. They’d have been out of a job, or at least that job, just like a bunch of radio consultants.

Instead, they’ve decided it’s politically better to have the problem than to solve it. They would rather have the political leverage of a bad border situation, which would be good for their party, rather than fixing it, which would be good for the country. It is a confluence of politics, policy and politicians who are selfish, spineless and ultimately useless. Goodness, today’s Republicans probably would have zeroed-out the defense budget in 1944 to try to sabotage President Franklin Roosevelt’s reelection chances.

But are their voters any better? Conservative and Republican voters have complained about immigration and the border incessantly, hyperbolically, vituperatively. I can’t say I blame them for wanting the matter addressed. Yet they will continue to support lawmakers who refuse to address it. They will still support someone to be the leader of this country who is unwilling to support something good for the country.

And they’ll maintain that support through the election year all while complaining incessantly, hyperbolically, vituperatively, that immigration and the border need to be addressed. Except they’ll blame the president for not solving the crisis rather than the lawmakers who tanked a set of solutions for that crisis.

If these voters continue to support politicians who refuse to address the border crisis, they no longer have a right to complain about it.

Ya know, I think I might be willing to join those Republican lawmakers in their laughter and incredulity over the voters they’ve been able to hoodwink. It’s the ultimate con: use their constituents’ own political biases — biases tantamount to religious fervor and zealotry — to trick them into providing political gain at their constituents’ expense. I’m reminded of those elderly folks who used to sit in front of the television watching “The 700 Club” and, despite being on a fixed income with little to spare, send checks to a fraudster peddling religious fealty while picking their flock’s pocket.

But let ’em have at it. They sure fixed abortion. Look how that turned out.





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