It will be a long while before we know just how badly the GOP damaged itself by caving to the nativist wing of the party and voting to end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which would make the young undocumented immigrants currently protected by that program newly eligible for deportation. But judging by the early reactions, Republicans are going to be haunted by it for a long time.
To recap: Before the August recess, the House Republicans passed a bill to deal with the influx of unaccompanied immigrant minors at the southern border. To secure the conservative support they needed to get it passed, the leadership held a vote on a second bill to eliminate funding for DACA (conservatives argue that the program helped cause the border crisis, even though there’s little reason to believe that’s true).
Since then, Republicans have been catching it hot from immigration activists. This past weekend, Rep. Paul Ryan was at a book signing in Florida where he was confronted by several young people claiming to be beneficiaries of DACA. They wanted to know why Ryan had voted with Rep. Steve King and other hard-line anti-immigrant legislators to terminate the program. Ryan dodged the questions and instead urged them to read his book.
It was actually the second time in the past week that Ryan’s book tour was met by protests from immigration activists.
Paul Ryan’s run-in with DACA beneficiaries follows Steve King’s heated encounter from earlier this month in Iowa, in which a young undocumented immigrant invited King to tear up her identification card. Sen. Rand Paul famously fled the scene of that confrontation before it escalated, but last week he told reporters that he actually sides with King on the issue and supports the House bill.
For Republicans like Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, whose ambitions are clearly greater than the offices they currently occupy, the House vote to end DACA is looking like it will be a real problem. The fact that Ryan voted for the measure isn’t particularly surprising, given that his record on immigration has tilted strongly toward opposing “amnesty.” But he had a front-row seat to the 2012 Republican electoral rout and Mitt Romney’s horrendous performance with Latino voters, and like so many other Republicans, he appeared, at least initially, to have moderated somewhat on immigration reform. In 2013 he teamed up with Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez to stump for immigration reform in Chicago. He pushed back against critics who called the Senate’s bipartisan reform bill “amnesty.” There were even some signs that he was softening his opposition to the Dream Act.
But all that was before the Republican consensus on immigration swung back toward “border security first” and increased deportations. Rand Paul’s arc on immigration traces a similar path: He ditched his hard-charging anti-reform posturing after 2012 and became a comparatively moderate voice for immigration reform, but then voted against the Senate bill before throwing in with the nativists on DACA.
Ryan’s vote for the anti-DACA measure, and Paul’s stated support for it, are problematic because they reinforce the perceived Republican antipathy toward Hispanics. But they also make perfectly clear that all the pro-reform talk from Ryan and Paul in the aftermath of 2012 was a put-on. A few nice words about immigration reform are meaningless when they’re paired with a voting record that stands firmly athwart any progress on the issue.