The humanitarian crisis that has emerged at the Southwestern U.S. border — a reflection of a refugee tide emanating from Central America more than any distinct border problem — has tested everyone’s stance on the broader question of a path forward for American immigration policy.
It’s also testing the readiness of Republicans to take a stand on an issue certain to play a central role in the presidential election campaign of 2016 — particularly in the party’s primary contests. It’s a good bet that Congress will do nothing substantive about the “comprehensive immigration reform” that leaders of both parties have sought — starting with President Barack Obama and including the bipartisan coalition in the Senate that produced a bill last year.
Which points to a couple of Republicans who probably know the issue better than anyone within their party who might be viewed as potential candidates for president in 2016. One of them is speaking out, and the other is not.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the Miami-born son of Cuban immigrants, was among those who won passage of a bill offering not only stronger control of the border, but also an overhaul of antiquated visa laws and a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. His advocacy for that bill was said to cost him among the base of his party that views the citizenship question as a mater of amnesty. Yet today, as he works to rebuild support for a possible run for president, he points to the existing problem along the border as proof of the necessity of that Senate bill.
“It’s a perfect storm of three things,” Rubio said of the situation this week in an appearance on the FOX News affiliate in Orlando. It’s a combination of an insecure border, particularly in Texas, traffickers taking advantage of refugees and an unfounded impression that there is a law in the U.S. that will allow these refugees to stay he said. Most of them will have to be returned to their home countries, he said.
“Let’s not just throw $3.7 billion at this problem,” Rubio said of the supplemental bill that Obama has proposed. “Let’s put in place permanent border security measures… Let’s deal with this issue… once and for all,” he said. If so, he said, “we’d be able to settle the rest of the problem, which includes the people here now….. If we did that, i think you actually create an environment where you can deal with immigration in its entirety in the future, and that includes modernizing the legal system and dealing with 12 million people who are here illegally now.
Jeb Bush, former two-term governor of Florida and Texas-born son of one president and brother of another whose own children are U.S.-born Mexican-American, co-authored a book last year about the “immigration wars” that also supported the comprehensive reform the Senate was promoting — yet stopped short of citizenship, suggesting that some form of legal status for the undocumented would be preferable if the country is committed to averting another uncontrolled influx.
At the same time, he has revealed that compassionate conservative streak in the Bush family — Brother George W. Bush, who also promoted a comprehensive immigration reform, liked to say that family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande. For those crossing in pursuit of a better life for their families, Jeb Bush has said, it’s “an act of love.” That would appear to be truer than ever today, in the light of families handling their children over to smugglers for fear of the criminal gangs threatening their existence in Honduras and Guatemala. That went over with the base for him about as well as the bill did for Rubio.
Yet, as he privately weighs the possibility of a campaign for president, we haven’t heard much lately from the former governor on the question at hand.
On Twitter, Bush has picked up on some of the recent essays that criticize Obama for lack of leadership in general — this includes one by Peggy Noonan taking the president to task in the current crisis, which could be read as an indirect comment on Bush’s part (or employing Noonan’s commentary as a political shield. Noonan said this about Obama’s avoidance of the border last week as he traveled across Texas for midterm election campaign fundraisers: “Give the president points for honesty. He doesn’t want to enact an `I care and am aware’ photo-op. He will pay a political price, but it is clearly a price he is willing to pay. He never has to face a voter again.”
This is a good piece by Peggy Noonan. It’s time to stop blaming and start leading, Mr. President. http://t.co/Cz3TjypEg5
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) July 12, 2014
In the social media field, Bush hasn’t stepped forward lately on anything much bigger than his dad’s parachute jump, World Cup soccer and this lately:
All the best to @KingJames as he heads back to Cleveland. We’ll miss you in Miami. Thanks for four awesome seasons!
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) July 11, 2014
Is it possible that the two serious Republican prospects for a presidential prospects who have thought the most, spoken out the most and worked the most on solutions to a broken immigration system are the ones least likely to seek a leading role going forward or win their party’s support in 2016 because of it?
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, another Floridian who knows the issue first-hand, a Florida-born son of Cuban immigrants, worked with a bipartisan group in the House to produce something compatible with what the Senate was producing. His years-long effort was abandoned by House leaders this year.
— Mario Diaz-Balart (@MarioDB) July 10, 2014
“My solution would require those who came here illegally to earn legal status, earn their right to remain here, and demonstrate their commitment to the United States,” the congressman said last week. “It is an efficient and effective approach that is good for the American economy and fair to the people who came here legally… This system is not going to fix itself, and delaying a commonsense solution is only going to make matters worse as is evident by what is going on today with the crisis on the southern border.”
Not before 2016, it appears, and then what?