Dems fear Cornyn plan

The Democratic message machine is bent on characterizing the GOP’s alternative immigration proposal, which would require sealing the border before granting legalization, as something that will kill the chances for immigration reform. Unless the soft standard of the Senate bill — that the government is trying to seal the border — is adopted and legalization linked to a successfully sealed border, the Democrats want to claim that immigration reform is dead.

The reason for their posturing is obvious: They cannot defend to their own constituents allowing amnesty while the border is still open.

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Their non-Hispanic Democratic voters want the border sealed before amnesty begins.

And U.S. Latino citizens agree! A poll by John McLaughlin, funded and organized by Republican John Jordan, shows that 57 percent of Latino U.S. citizens back a seal-the-border-first provision in immigration reform. While they would prefer the bill without the border security amendment, Latinos have no objection to securing the border first, even when told it would delay legalization by several years.

Latino U.S. citizens share with non-Hispanics the view that some law and order is needed in the immigration process. They do not want there to be an endless flow of illegal immigrants hoping for retroactive legalization. They have compassion for those who are now caught in this purgatory, but have no wish to make others join them. Border security is also a Latino issue.

It is only the Democrats who want to hold out for immediate legalization — in the hope that they will have even more Latinos in limbo for them to demagogue.

So when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says he won’t bring up the Senate immigration bill, Democrats are quick to charge that he will keep immigration reform bottled up in committee. But it is clear that Republicans are rallying behind the amendment first offered by GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas that would link legalization to concrete statistical milestones on border security. If they stick with it, and the Tea Party congressmen abandon their no-way approach to immigration reform, the Cornyn amendment has a very good chance.

As long as Democrats can dismiss the Cornyn proposal, they need not get into the substance of the issue. But once the issue goes to conference, Latinos will react negatively to Democrats holding up immigration reform because they don’t want to tie it to border security.

And there will be hell to pay among non-Hispanic Democrats when they find that their senators don’t really want the border sealed at all.

It is precisely because the Democrats have no real defense against the Cornyn approach that they are so dedicated to heading it off at the beginning by saying the Senate bill is the only way to proceed.

The key question now is whether Boehner can get 218 House Republicans to vote for the Cornyn approach or whether the right wing of his caucus will balk at any bill that eventually allows legalization.

Here, it is very important that House conservatives come to see the Cornyn approach as more of a border security bill than an immigration reform measure. In that sense, the Democrats are right: The only way we will ever secure the border is by incentivizing administration action by dangling legalization as the reward. Otherwise, the border will never really be secured and each year will bring a new crop of hopeful illegal immigrants into the nation so the process — and the pressure for amnesty — can build up all over again.

The only way to avert this repetitive cycle is by making President Obama seal the border, and the only way to make him do that is to hold up legalization until he does.

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.