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House passes easy answer for constituents on border

Maybe this year, Rep. Charlie Dent (center) will have a better town hall experience.
Maybe this year, Rep. Charlie Dent (center) will have a better town hall experience.
Douglas Graham/CQ-Roll Call

Late Friday night, the House of Representatives passed two immigration bills before heading back to their districts for the August recess. One bill would spend $694 million to send National Guard troops to the US/Mexico border, appoint some new immigration judges, and amp up Border Patrol detention facilities, as well as changing the law to subject Central American children to the same expedited process that's currently being used (with alarming results) for Mexican children.

The other bill would kill the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — the Obama administration's effort to protect young unauthorized immigrants who would benefit from the DREAM Act. In addition to preventing the federal government from approving any new applications, it would prevent the 580,000 immigrants currently authorized to work under the program from renewing their status.

Neither of these bills is going to pass. Not only have Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama both declared their opposition to them, but the Senate isn't even in Washington anymore — it adjourned Thursday night after failing to get its own border bill through a procedural vote.

But House Republican leadership didn't put these bills up in the hopes they would pass into law. It put them up so that Republican members of Congress can have an easy answer when they go back to their districts during the August recess and constituents ask them what they're doing about the border crisis. It's very important to these members that they have a good, and simple, response — especially one that implies that they showed leadership and took action, and their opponents weren't willing to rise to the challenge.

In fairness, this is what Senate Democrats would have done, had they managed to pass their own border-funding bill last night. The Democratic bill would have put more money toward judges and long-term care for unaccompanied children, and avoided changes to the law. But it failed on a procedural point of order when no Republicans were willing to join Democrats to pass it. So instead of Democrats having the easy talking point on immigration action, Republicans have it.

Compare this to last year, when House Republicans were still weighing the possibility of broader immigration reform. During last August's recess, members gave very vague answers when asked about immigration. Many just said they opposed the bill the Senate had passed earlier that summer, and said nothing beyond that. Others just talked about the need to fix the system. When they got asked more specific questions, they had to work very hard to dodge them. It wasn't a comfortable situation for them — they weren't just unsure what their talking points should be, they were unsure what sorts of bills they might need to leave the door open for.

Now that they've returned to their pre-2013 position of supporting maximum deportations, many members of the House Republican caucus are clearly relieved to know where they stand, and to be able to tell their constituents they Did Something about it — even if that something was just voting for a bill that will probably be recycled in a Senate office trashcan long before the Senate returns.