GOP can trump Obama’s bad immigration plan

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BY LANHEE CHEN

BN-DM923_1break_G_20140701183119Let’s be clear: President Barack Obama isn’t really fixing the broken U.S. immigration system.

He’s taking a naked political maneuver that he hopes will shore up support for Democrats among Latino voters and re-energize the party’s base after its beating in the elections this month.

Whether he’s right depends on how Republicans respond to his announcement. So, they should tread carefully.

First, they should remind Americans that the president’s executive action is nothing more than another short-term patch that arguably makes it less, not more, likely that Congress will ever pass permanent reforms.

There has been no clear plan for truly boosting border security; no effort to hold employers who hire illegal immigrants accountable; no repair of our broken visa system for these seeking to come here legally; and, perhaps most significant, no permanent resolution of the legal status of the 11 million people who came to the U.S. unlawfully.

In fact, the next president could easily wipe away whatever relief illegal immigrants may receive through Obama’s executive action.

Second, Republicans should do everything they can to avoid a government shutdown in response to the president’s announcement.

They are right to express, through the legislative process, their concerns over the legal issues and policies in the president’s action. But they shouldn’t hand him a political victory by failing to finance the government.

A more targeted effort, such as the alternative floated this week by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, would be better.

Rogers suggested that Congress could first pass an omnibus funding bill that would ensure the government remains open, and then pass “rescissions” bills in the next Congress that would defund specific agencies or government operations directly related to carrying out the president’s plan.

Another option would be to pass two separate funding bills, omnibus legislation to finance the vast majority of the federal government’s operations and a measure focused only on the few offices responsible for carrying out the president’s order.

The narrower bill would include an explicit prohibition on implementing Obama’s executive action. This division would force Democrats into a corner: either accept the prohibitions on carrying out the president’s executive order, or get blamed for a government shutdown.

Regardless of the approach, Republicans should see to it that spending levels specified in any omnibus legislation are responsible ones. But either of these options enables Republicans to avoid a shutdown while also undercutting Obama’s efforts.

Finally, Republicans shouldn’t abandon the idea of passing some immigration legislation early in the 114th Congress next year. By putting permanent changes in place, they would be offering a welcome contrast to the president’s temporary action.

By deciding to move ahead with executive action on immigration, the president is jeopardizing the possibility of bipartisan cooperation in the next Congress. But Republicans have the opportunity to demonstrate that they can and will govern, regardless of what Obama does.

Lanhee Chen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution who also teaches public policy at Stanford University.

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