Over the past decade, the debate over immigration reform has developed a clear pattern: Republicans demand strengthened border security as a pre-condition for any serious reform. Democrats give it to them. Then Republicans demand more, and the cycle repeats itself. It’s time to call the House Republican caucus’ position on “securing the border” what it is: a ruse to protect them from taking a politically unpopular vote on immigration reform.
Any discussion of border security must start with this simple fact: By almost any measure, the U.S.-Mexico border is more secure than ever. Deportations are at historic highs, even as the number of immigrants crossing the border has rapidly declined. There are record numbers of U.S. Border Patrol and ICE agents, and 650 miles of fencing now combine with the Colorado River and Rio Grande to cover a huge portion of the border.
But still, Republicans insist that further increases to border security must be a pre-condition to any immigration reform efforts.
When the Senate finally passed the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill in June, with the support of every Democrat and 14 Republicans, reform advocates paid a steep price for a bipartisan stamp of approval. The bill only passed after the addition of a “border surge” amendment, which would spend roughly $30 billion to double the size of the Border Patrol and build 700 miles of new fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, among other new security measures.
The strict new reforms are deeply questionable policy, but at least they satisfied the Republicans who refused to move on comprehensive immigration reform until we “seriously beef up the border security part,” as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell repeatedly insisted.
At least it satisfied Senate Republicans.
To the GOP’s House majority, the new security measures are “weak,” and “laughable,” as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) put it in June. With few exceptions, the Republican caucus has fallen in line behind the Speaker, and declared: No immigration bill can pass without even more extreme security measures.
That congressional Republicans would move the goalposts on border security comes as little surprise; in fact, it’s been their primary legislative strategy on immigration for years. As a January 2013 report from the American Immigration Lawyers Association makes clear, each time the government clears a suggested benchmark, Congress simply demands that it go further — and refuses to enact any reforms until the new benchmarks are cleared.