When is the Right Time for Amnesty? Never.

When House Republican leaders released their “Immigration Standards” last week, analysis of the policy almost immediately gave way to a debate over timing: should the amnesty-first proposal be pushed heading into a midterm election or delayed until the presidential primary cycle?  Political strategists are asking the wrong question – bad policy is bad policy – but the decision will have major repercussions.  So, what are the so-called strategists thinking?  

Strategists are divided.  There are those who wish to delay the amnesty push until 2015, after the midterm elections.  Others think we should act immediately in 2014.  Republican pollster Whit Ayres articulated the latter perspective this way:

“If Republicans wait until 2015 to tackle this issue, that puts a very emotional and controversial issue right in the middle of the Republican presidential selection process,” veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres, a supporter of reform, tells me. “The opportunity for demagoguery will be exceedingly prevalent if we wait that long.”

“It could drag the entire field to the right on immigration, which is the last thing we need if we want to be competitive in the America of the 21st century as well as in the 2016 presidential election,” Ayres continued. “It’s a very real threat.”

Of course, action taken this year could be demoralizing to the conservative base, which is staunchly opposed to amnesty.  The Federalist explains the potential pitfalls for Republicans in the 2014 midterm election if they try to focus on immigration reform (which only 3 percent of Americans consider a top priority for 2014) and amnesty rather than Obamacare, unemployment, and other pressing issues:

 Congressional Republicans have made it quite clear they intend to at least restart the conversation on immigration, which already has many conservatives groaning loader than a bathroom attendee in a Taco Bell. In an election cycle, where you need every bit of your base to turn out to maximize your gains, this is, frankly, puzzling. If the conversation fizzles out, many on the right will cautiously re-focus on the fight against Obamacare. If it drags on through the spring and summer, and bears legislative fruit, we could see a schism forming just months before Election Day, and one very unlikely to heal itself in time to deliver a potentially historic win. (emphasis added)

The debate itself – amnesty in 2014 or amnesty in 2015 – ignores one fundamental problem: Barack Obama will still be president.  The Heritage Foundation explains why distrust of the President is not unfounded:

Given the President’s disregard for enforcing the law and changing the law without going back to Congress, policymakers have no real reason to trust the President to uphold any new immigration laws.

They continue:

Lack of trust is only one reason amnesty is the wrong policy for Congress. As pointed outelsewhere, amnesty is unfair, costly, and won’t work to stop unlawful immigration.

Policymakers in the House would be unwise to push an unpopular and controversial amnesty while trusting President Obama to uphold our nation’s immigration laws (current or new).

Amnesty is amnesty, whether it occurs this year or next year.  And so long as President Obama resides in the White House, real immigration reform that is carried out with all due respect to the law will be impossible.

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