From Time Magazine’s Swampland
February 20, 2013
When President Obama and Democrats in Congress say they would like to pass a comprehensive immigration-reform bill this year, it’s entirely possible that they mean exactly what they say. But in Washington, where taking a statement at face value is the mark of a rube, there’s speculation that, deep down, the Democrats would rather “save the issue” — tweak the process in some way that would make Republican opposition inevitable, then use the failure of reform as a weapon in 2014.
That suspicion spiked over the weekend when details of a White House immigration proposal lit up the news sites in time to be squabbled over on the Sunday-morning talk shows. The Administration strongly denied it was tossing a wrench into delicate congressional negotiations, but remember what we just said about taking statements at face value. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a key figure on immigration policy, smelled a rat: “Does the President really want a result?” he asked on Meet the Press. “Or does he want another cudgel so he can beat up Republicans to get an advantage in the next election?”
So are Democrats secretly maneuvering to save the issue of immigration? Are Republicans cynically accusing the Democrats of trying to save the issue as a way of shifting blame should reform fail? “Oh, what a tangled web we weave,” the writer Walter Scott famously wrote, “when first we practice to deceive.”
Of course, the only way to prove conclusively that an issue is not being saved is to reach a compromise and pass a bill. And members of Congress who are participating in bipartisan talks on immigration say they are making progress and a real solution remains possible. But if the issue is saved for the next election, don’t be surprised if the federal courts get involved. A lawsuit pending in Fort Worth asks a U.S. district judge to render President Obama’s 2012 Executive Order on immigration null and void.
The order, circulated by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, was designed to implement large parts of the Dream Act — despite the fact that Congress never passed the act. Immigrants landing in the U.S. illegally as children would not be deported as long as they met certain virtuous benchmarks: going to school, serving in the military, staying out of jail and so on. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were instructed not to initiate legal proceedings against so-called Dreamers. In the view of 10 of the agents, this amounts to ordering them to break the law. Legislation passed in 1996 can be read as requiring agents to open formal proceedings against immigrants who can’t prove their lawful status.