Boehner springs another lame trap: Why Obama must ignore his latest overtures about immigration

John Boehner is once again saying the House could take up immigration reform! We've heard this before

Published October 2, 2014 6:30PM (EDT)

  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/photo montage by Salon)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/photo montage by Salon)

Remember "immigration reform"? It was the biggest domestic policy topic for the past couple of years. Brief recap of major events: the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, the House pretended to consider taking it up for a while, and then it didn't, President Obama promised to take executive action to slow down deportations, and then he didn't. If you add up those two "didn't"s, the sum total of legislative and executive action that's changed U.S. immigration policy in the past two years is "zero." The result of immigration activists tireless work has been "zero." Zeroes across the board.

Poor decisions have been made on this path to this overwhelming zeroness. The poorest and most predictable was Speaker John Boehner stringing everyone along for a year about how his House might take up immigration reform, before deciding not to. The border crisis (remember that?) offered Boehner the final excuse to drop his plans, but even before that, there was a lot of pathetic muttering about how Obama couldn't be "trusted" to carry out the law because he's a tyrannical president. His excuses don't matter, really. The GOP has officially decided to be an anti-immigration party for the indefinite future, and President Obama should no longer feel concerned about "poisoning the well" on the legislative front by taking executive action.

Another poor decision was President Obama's. He promised to take executive action by the end of the summer, and then broke that promise in order to appease some crappy Democratic Senate candidates in red and purple states. Moreover, in breaking that promised, he offered a new pledge -- to take executive action on deportations after the midterms. This had the twin negative affects of depressing a key part of the Democratic base while leaving Republicans room to scream about his eventual plans.

The Washington Post reports today about how Obama's decision to delay may be hurting Democrats more than it's helping. The most obvious way to determine this is to look at polls of Senate battleground races, where the Democrats are faring worse by the day. But here's some ground-level reporting, for the hell of it.

Activists in key states say it is increasingly difficult to register would-be Latino voters who would vote for Democrats because of unhappiness over the decision. Poll numbers for Obama and Democrats have also dropped farther among Hispanics than the population at large. One group has even launched a campaign against four Democratic senators who backed a GOP proposal to bar Obama from taking any executive action on immigration.

“The president has not helped us,” said activist Leo Murietta, 28, who is working to register Latino voters in Colorado for Mi Familia Vota. “People are disappointed. They wanted action, they wanted activity, they wanted movement.”

President Obama, sensing that he can't take immigration activists for granted, will be speaking at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala tonight. Buzzfeed reports that he "will reaffirm his promise of administrative actions to slow record deportations before the end of the year," although that's hardly set in stone. The White House has pushed back against a Buzzfeed's reporting that Obama "will call on [Latinos in attendance] to stick with him and wait 40 more days."

There's another slim but horrifying prospect, as Vox's Dara Lind writes. That Obama could fall for Boehner's trap again. Boehner, as Lind notes, has been saying in recent interviews that there's "absolutely" a chance that the House could take up immigration reform next year -- but only if Obama reneges on executive action. Obama, of course, would prefer a legislative solution to immigration problems over an executive one, and so it will be tempting to once again delay action in order to give Congress more "space" to work things out on its own.

You're laughing, right? You should be laughing. Hopefully President Obama isn't falling for it again. We're too far along in this administration for this sort of thing. The Republican House and (likely) Republican Senate are not going to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform with anything resembling legal status for undocumented immigrants next year, and any murmuring about the possibility of that is simply John Boehner trying to manipulate the Democrats into not pursuing what's in its interest. What's in the Democratic party's interest is to secure a key and growing part of its base -- Hispanics -- with results, however it can, over and over, until Republicans are forced to accept its demographic disadvantage and come to the table for a legislative deal.

That won't happen in the Obama presidency. His "legacy" will never include bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform. His legacy could, however, include serious executive action that lifts the threat of deportation for millions of families. It would be the proper and humane policy, and it would put more heat on the Republican party, eventually, to reinvent itself.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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