To understand the current non-action on immigration, one need look no further than the Republican stance on abortion, before and after the fall of Roe v. Wade.
I’ve said many times that abortion was always a winning issue for Republicans, but only as long as it stayed legal. For decades, they were able to paint Democrats as baby-killers, seizing what they thought of as the moral high ground, safe in the knowledge that abortion was here to stay. Or so they thought.
It was a great scam while it lasted. They were able to create a legion of single-issue voters, gullible rubes who lived for the day Roe would be overturned. And as long as Republicans could keep waving that shiny object, the rube vote was assured forever. It was okay to promise the end of Roe, but they must never, under any circumstances, deliver it.
Of course, the Supreme Court had other ideas. And quite predictably, the minute Roe was overturned, abortion became the GOP’s worst nightmare. It went instantly from a problem that didn’t exist, to a problem with massive consequences, mostly at the state level.
Red-state Republicans immediately served up a slew of new laws that managed to be intrusive, cruel, wildly unpopular, and stupid, all at once. As laws go, these are remarkable, not just for the inevitable drain on state resources, but also for the Gestapo-like levels of policing it will take to enforce them. Neither hearts nor minds will be won.
The Dobbs decision ceded the high ground to the Democrats, and the GOP has no way to get it back. They have lost the abortion scam altogether, to the point where they dare not even talk about it, for fear of the backlash they’ll get from women voters, even within their own party.
So while they are desperate to change the subject, a good scam is hard to find. They were hoping to exploit the disastrous Biden economy, but the economy refused to cooperate. They thought they had the “Biden’s age” issue cornered, till Trump took cognitive dysfunction to a whole new level. And now they’re picking on Taylor Swift, someone far smarter and far more media-savvy than they will ever be, and whose fan base includes no small number of rubes she might just lure away from the party.
So in the absence of any other reliable scams, they’re left with immigration. That old warhorse. Ever since Trump began his 2016 candidacy by stoking the fires of xenophobia — by getting his rubes all hot and bothered about migrants at the Southern border — immigration has been one of the go-to strategies for MAGA loons looking to stir up the base.
And they’ve certainly milked it plenty over that time. From Trump’s “build-the-wall-and-let-Mexico- pay-for-it” con, to the preposterous impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Republicans have for years been treating this “issue” as if it were real.
Unfortunately, it is real. It’s a dead serious global problem, and it’s not just about a logjam at the border. It’s about the forced migration of people displaced by war, climate, or both. It’s about traumatized families looking for a safe haven, often in a hurry. It’s about hungry people moving where the food is, and about the coming competition for that food, which will be fierce.
The United States, a traditional magnet for such people, happens to need those migrants. We have a national shortfall of more than ten million jobs, jobs we need to power the society that makes us such a magnet in the first place. These jobs could easily be offered to migrants, who’d be only too happy to fill them.
But that would involve actually addressing the immigration issue, as opposed to grandstanding about it. If Republicans could ever get behind some sort of rational immigration plan, their own corporate donors would be among the biggest beneficiaries. They’re the ones with the jobs that need filling.
Half-assed plans have been floated over the years, but every one of them has run up against the roadblock of Republicans unwilling to bargain in good faith.
And it just happened again. The most serious plan in decades was heading for a rare bipartisan vote, only to be scuttled by House Republicans sucking up to Trump.
This particular plan was only partly about immigration. It was driven by the urgency of new military funding for Ukraine and humanitarian funding for Israel and Gaza. House Republicans had foolishly tied this funding — a matter, literally, of life and death — to a deal on what they continue to call "the crisis at the border."
Yes, this was pure blackmail, a poison pill that quickly went global — Putin loves the idea of Ukraine running out of missiles — but it brought Mitch McConnell out of his coma long enough to work with Chuck Schumer on a real immigration bill.
What the House GOP clowns hadn’t figured was that Biden would call their bluff, that he’d approve a better border deal than they’d ever dreamed of, and that he’d risk pissing off much of his own party to do it. That’s how vital he considers Ukraine and the Middle East. He was daring House Republicans to put up or shut up.
Then Trump noticed how the whole thing was shaping up as a Biden win, so he instructed Mike Johnson, his pet Speaker of the House, to kill the deal. What does Trump care about Ukraine? Or the Middle East? Or the Southern border? He’ll solve all that stuff in his first week back in office — just keep everything on boil until then.
As of this writing, the House clowns seem to have obeyed their fuhrer — the pet Speaker refused to even bring the bill to a vote — leaving Republicans in both houses of Congress to explain why they turned down legislation they’ve been screaming about for decades.
They insist on stricter border laws, as long as it doesn’t mean passing stricter border laws.
The good news is that Biden won’t have to go through with a border deal he never wanted, and which was giving his fellow Democrats indigestion.
The bad news is that there will be a few thousand more deaths in Ukraine and the Middle East. To House Republicans, that's a feature, not a bug.
Still, give them credit for learning the lessons of Roe. They now understand that immigration is a problem that must not, under any circumstances, be solved. They must have an “issue” that their rubes can get enraged over, because without it, what would they run on? Book-banning? They need to keep immigration on the front burner, at least through the next election.
Even so, it’s hard to see immigration working for them the way abortion did for so long. Abortion is a binary issue — you’re either for it or against it. Immigration is far more complex, with gray areas that resist simplistic answers.
Moreover, immigration is something of an abstraction to Trump’s base, most of whom come in contact with relatively few immigrants. And since there is no real threat at the border, fictitious threats must constantly be invented, amplified, and endlessly repeated by right-wing media.
Indeed, if you watch enough Fox, you can be convinced that immigrants are all vicious criminals out to rape your women and force-feed fentanyl to your kids. Forget the evidence of your own eyes, Sean Hannity will tell you what to think.
So the question becomes, will the manufactured outrage at the border carry more or less weight than the very real outrage at the nullification of Roe?
The answer to that question might just decide the next election. But for now, let’s just understand that the latest failure to address immigration was inevitable, and pre-ordained.