WASHINGTON – While campaigning for Speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan, R.-Wis., promised Republican House members, especially the far right wingers, that he would not allow any votes on immigration reform bills while Obama is still president. This past Sunday, less than three days after he became Speaker, Ryan re-iterated this pledge on several talk shows.
The reason he gave makes no sense. He said Obama “can’t be trusted.” Huh? From day one of his presidency, Republicans have said they can’t “trust” Obama. This has never stopped them from putting forward all sorts of bills.
The fact is that for Republicans (and for some Democrats) immigration reform is a risky business. No matter what they do, their campaigns for election and re-election to the House and Senate could take a hit. The same is true for the campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination.
All in all, therefore, Republicans, especially the right wingers, would rather wait until after the elections next year to put forward bills that address immigration policy reform in concrete ways.
Here’s their quandary: on the one hand, Republicans overall, especially the right wingers, are trying to persuade working class Americans to vote for candidates whose programs and policies hurt working-class Americans.
So what do these candidates do? The right wingers divert attention away from the pro-billionaire policies that are the real cause of the nation’s economic problems and inflame voters’ fears and hatreds. There’s a whole list of targets, but the main one is immigrants.
On the other hand, many corporations who support the right wingers are making huge profits off of paying undocumented immigrant workers wages way below standard and by forcing them to work under conditions that can only be called slave-like.
Even Donald Trump, who has made immigrant-bashing a mainstay on his campaign, says he employees thousands of Hispanics. You can bet he hasn’t checked their papers and that he’s paying them very little.
To make matters more complicated, many business leaders have come to the conclusion that creating easier paths to citizenship would create a more stable workforce.
The result of this quandary? Many right wing politicians do a balancing act: they rail against “illegal” immigrants but make sure nothing much is done to address either the causes or effects of the current situation.
However, almost three years ago, President Obama became impatient with doing nothing, and senators from both parties felt they could take a risk because the elections of 2016 were far enough in the future. So the president and senators worked together. They crafted and passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate. It might have gained a majority in the House, but it was never brought to a vote there.
Only then did the president issue an executive order that gave legal protections to some undocumented immigrant families.
This executive action is what Ryan is complaining about. On the This Week show, he said “I think [Obama has] proven untrustworthy on this issue. He tried to go around Congress with an executive order to rewrite laws unilaterally.”
Again, Ryan makes no logical sense. There is no reason for lawmakers not to take action on issues also addressed by executive orders.
However, even though the reason Ryan gives for preventing votes on immigration reform makes no logical sense, it makes a lot of political sense to Republicans and right wingers.
Of course it prolongs the suffering of some 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S.
But Ryan, the tea party House caucus and many right-wing candidates have come up with a mantra to show they “care” about immigrants. Their exact proposals for fast tracking citizenship for immigrants vary, but they are now all repeating over and over again: “I’m for immigration reform after we secure our borders.”
No one has explained exactly what “secure our borders” means or how we can have “immigration reform” after we do it.
Nevertheless, having a self-contradicting goal is working just fine for Ryan and his bunch. It helps to assure nothing will be done … at least not until after the 2016 elections.
Photo: Paul Ryan, R-Wis., just before taking his place as the new House Speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan, Oct. 29, in the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP Photo | J. Scott Applewhite