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A.B. Stoddard: Crossing the border divide

Just weeks ago a humanitarian crisis exploding on the border was scrambling the politics of immigration — Republicans agreed immediate resources were needed to confront the problem, and Democrats conceded President Obama had ignored the alarming influx for nearly two years. But after just moments in the middle, both sides have decided to use the crisis to head back to their partisan corners once more. A debate about immigration has now rapidly deteriorated from a calamity involving children to the politics of impeachment.

By June, the conventional prism that had defined the immigration debate for years suddenly no longer applied. Obama initially assumed the flow of migrants into the Rio Grande Valley would pressure congressional Republicans to pass long-stalled comprehensive reform the Senate passed a year ago. Instead, residents of struggling U.S. cities like Chicago appeared on news reports asking why the president couldn’t take care of his own citizens before those from other countries.

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 So in early July, Obama said he would ask Congress to amend a 2008 law originally intended to fight sex trafficking. Its unintended consequences, Obama agreed, were worsening the problem by granting refugee status for migrants from noncontiguous countries like Honduras and Guatemala that people arriving from Mexico or Canada, often immediately deported, are not afforded.

Hillary Clinton, on book tour in June, said on CNN that unaccompanied minors should be sent home as soon as it could be determined who their parents or responsible parties were, adding “we have to send a clear message: Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean your child gets to stay.”

But a month later, Obama has flipped under pressure from immigrants-rights groups and no longer supports changing that law.  Clinton has also shifted leftward.

Many Republicans are insisting the House must pass a border bill before heading home for a five-week recess. The GOP not only fears a backlash from inaction but anticipates Obama will delight in gridlock, taking the political opportunity to announce executive actions granting amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants in August when they leave town. Republicans originally suggested the president’s request for emergency funding should be cut back from $3.7 billion to $1.7 billion, but are now backing a $659 million measure that, even if it passes the House, will not be approved by the Senate. Instead of finding some temporary compromise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested the two chambers conference what the House proposes with a Senate-passed bill that conservatives adamantly oppose. 

So, for every House Republican who believes leaving town without passing something is unacceptable, Reid is hoping to push other Republicans to refuse to pass a bill for fear of bringing back a debate over the Senate bill. There’s governing at its finest.

But Reid isn’t the Republicans’ only problem. Conservatives assume an announcement granting any work permits or legalization of any kind to workers in the country illegally will create a push for impeachment. “From my standpoint, if the president [enacts more executive action], we need to bring impeachment hearings immediately ,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said on Breitbart News.

President Obama and national Democrats have been dining out on impeachment talk for weeks now, even boasting that comments promoting impeachment from Sarah Palin and others have helped them raise the biggest campaign haul all cycle. So it’s possible, and Democrats might even be hoping, that what stands in between a border crisis and impeachment is compromise.

Sadly, no one is betting on compromise.

 

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.

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