Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Jeb! admits we can't deport 'em all

Jeb Bush conceded the blooming obvious today on immigration:

"While passions run high on this issue, there is no rational plan to deport millions of people that the American people would support. It would disrupt communities and families and could cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars."

As an alternative to the impossible, the GOP presidential candidate proposes a comprehensive approach to illegal immigration that in the end would allow those already here illegally to "pass a thorough criminal background checks, pay fines, pay taxes, learn English, obtain a provisional work permit and work, not receive federal government assistance, and over an extended period of time earn legal status."

In short, conservatives will howl, "AMNESTY!!!!!"

To mute that criticism, Bush has paired his path to legalization with proposals to significantly boost border enforcement as well, arguing that taken together, "the policies I am advocating can ultimately receive bipartisan support in Congress and become law."

While I wish that was true, we already know that's it's not.

As you pore over the details of Bush's policy proposal, it quickly becomes obvious that it's a less detailed version of  Senate Bill 744, the comprehensive immigration package passed by the Democratic Senate in 2013 with just 14 Republican votes.

In the Republican-led House, however, that bill never received so much as a committee hearing. Speaker John Boehner made it quite clear that because it contained a path to legalization, there would be no vote on that bill, and no negotiations with the Senate. It was a complete non-starter. He instead promised that the House would produce its own immigration bill, which it never did.

And again, the parallels between the Bush proposal and the proposal that was so summarily rejected by House leadership are striking:

  • Bush endorses an upgrade of the E-Verify system used to establish legal status for employment; the Senate bill contained $750 million for that upgrade, and would have mandated its use by employers.
  • Bush proposes more Border Patrol agents and hundreds of miles of new fencing. S. 744 would have doubled the size of the Border Patrol and added 700 miles of fencing.
  • Bush believes strongly in the the use of technology, "such as drones, advanced sensors, and radar" used to create "a multi-layered 'defense in depth' where additional lines of defense increase the likelihood of detecting and apprehending illegal crossers." S. 744 would have put numbers to that rhetoric, financing new 85 border observation towers, 488 fixed-based, 24-hour video surveillance systems, 232 mobile video surveillance systems, 4,595 ground and infrared sensors, and 820 handheld infrared and night-vision systems, plus thousands of other border-enforcement tools such as radiation sensors, license-plate readers, etc.. It would also have purchased almost 50 helicopters, 30 boats, four drones and six VADER ground-radar systems.
  • Bush complains that today, "agents have to navigate byzantine environmental rules and regulations to access federal lands, which make up a large portion of the southwest border. Removing these restrictions would help untie the hands of our agents to patrol every inch of the border." The Senate plan would have given the secretary of Homeland Security the right to waive any federal law, including the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws, that might interfere with fence construction.
  • Bush would focus attention on immigrants who come here legally, as tourists or students, and then overstay their visas. S. 744 would have done the same, requiring Homeland Security to identify, track and remove at least 90 percent of visitors who overstay their visas by more than 180 days.

To sweeten the pot, Bush does take a swipe at "sanctuary cities" that the Senate bill did not, denying federal aid to police agencies that do not cooperate fully with federal immigration officials. And in a transparent act of dishonesty, he blames the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform not on his own party total opposition to legal status, but on President Obama.

"Instead of leading the nation towards consensus, he has divided the country," Bush claims. "One has to ask whether he is more interested in providing a wedge issue for his party than offering a solution for the country."

Politically speaking, I understand that -- if you're running for president in a Republican primary, you can't blame Republican failures on Republicans, and in that situation there's no better scapegoat than Obama. But the truth is that Obama repeatedly delayed taking executive action on immigration in hopes that congressional Republicans could be convinced to do the right thing. He acted late last year, six years after taking office, only after it became clear that Republican leaders were too afraid of their own backbenchers and base to do what they, and Bush, know is necessary.

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.