Do-nothing House: Boehner blocks a needed immigration reform

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If any more proof were needed that America is blighted by a do-nothing Congress, the effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform provides chapter and verse. To the surprise of nobody, House Speaker John A. Boehner announced Wednesday that the Senate bill sent over in the summer would remain dead on arrival in his chamber this year.

This despite the fact that immigration reform is widely recognized as vital to the nation’s future — a recognition that has carried over from the Bush administration’s efforts to champion the cause on the same basic principles. Business groups want reform because it promises economic advantage. Religious and humanitarian groups want reform as a matter of social justice.

This sensible consensus does not matter to the hard-core Republicans whom Mr. Boehner seeks to placate. They want nothing to do with anything that smacks of amnesty, so the speaker is pursuing a piecemeal approach instead of negotiating with the Senate. “The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House,” he said.

Actually, House members have had plenty of time to read it. The Senate bill (S 744), the culmination of nearly a year’s work, passed with a solid bipartisan majority of 68-32 in late June. If Mr. Boehner and his Tea Party pals had not shut down the government, maybe they would have been prepared to go to work.

While the bill is large, its comprehensive reach contains a lot for reasonable critics to like. It would double the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents along the southern border, require completing 700 miles of fencing and mandate that employers use a system to check on the status of work applicants.

On the contentious issue of the nation’s 11 million immigrants, they would have the chance to undergo a rigorous, 12-year pathway to citizenship that included fines. No felons would be accepted and no adult would go to the front of the immigration line; due to the time lag, the political system would not be suddenly flooded with assumed Democrats.

Mr. Boehner calls his step-by-step approach “common sense,” but common sense suggests that this is a certain way to leave 11 million people in the shadows. That problem will be the first thread to be lost as comprehensive reform is picked apart. What will be left is poor social policy and even worse long-term politics.

The Republican Party has a Hispanic problem and delivering half-loaves on immigration reform is not going to lift the whiff of prejudice and old-fashioned nativism attached to the anti-immigration effort.

For the rest of us, the unreasonable critics of comprehensive immigration reform are also showing that their ideological dislike of government and their inability to compromise render them incapable of governing.

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