Why Jeb Bush’s Pragmatic Immigration Plan Has No Chance of Passing in the House
Policy + Politics

Why Jeb Bush’s Pragmatic Immigration Plan Has No Chance of Passing in the House

With billionaire Donald Trump and his controversial views on immigrations driving much of the discussion about the Republican presidential primary race, it seemed inevitable that the other candidates would be forced to show their collective hand on the issue. On Monday, former Florida governor Jeb Bush released his most detailed statement to date on the issue.

While it’s an enforcement-heavy proposal, Bush doesn’t offer much in the way of concession to the Trump “kick them all out and let the good ones back in” solution to the fact that an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants are currently living in the U.S.

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“While passions run high on this issue, there is no rational plan to deport millions of people that the American people would support,” he said in a document posted on his campaign website and published on Medium.com. “It would disrupt communities and families and could cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Interestingly, the campaign touts the proposal as Bush’s “six-point” plan for dealing with immigration issues, but it’s really a seven-point plan. The element of the proposal that doesn’t get a number is Bush’s suggestion that many of the 11 million undocumented currently in the U.S. be given a path to legal status.

“I believe that for those already in the country, we need to put in place a rigorous path that requires individuals to pass a thorough criminal background check, pay fines, pay taxes, learn English, obtain a provisional work permit and work, not receive federal government assistance, and over an extended period of time earn legal status,” he said.

This is not dramatically different from what Bush has advocated in the past, and will, among a certain element of the GOP base, be criticized as “amnesty.” But given his long record of advocating a path to legal status, Bush would have had a hard time maintaining credibility if he had flip-flopped on the issue.

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However, the price of personal consistency is that Bush has delivered a plan that doesn’t stand a chance in Congress, where a large segment of the House of Representatives will not accept anything that smacks of forgiveness toward people in the country illegally. His proposal tries to make up for his relative leniency with existing undocumented immigrants with detailed proposals to toughen border enforcement.

Bush proposes redeploying Border Patrol officers at “forward operating bases” close to the border to allow more rapid response to reports of illegal crossing. He calls for “continuous surveillance” of the border through the use of technology, including drones, which “can give our agents a fuller picture of the illegal activity that in turn will enable the country to better allocate resources on the border.”

He also proposes investing in infrastructure near the border, including new roads and boat launch points, to give the Border Patrol faster and better access to the most remote areas they monitor.

Bush joins many across the political spectrum in calling for electronic verification of workers’ legal status. The point of the E-Verify system is to reduce the incentive to come to the U.S. illegally by making it harder to find work. Bush also wants to crack down on visa overstays which, by some estimates, account for nearly half of the undocumented population.

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Finally, Bush makes the de rigeur call for a crackdown on so-called “sanctuary cities,” places where, in the minds of some, undocumented immigrants are allowed to run riot, endangering the population. The murder of a woman in San Francisco last month – with a generous boost from Donald Trump – became a symbol of the supposed problem of sanctuary cities. While there is reason to doubt that such cities are quite as bad at enforcing federal immigration law as Trump and others suggest, they are the flavor of the month, and Bush has signed on.

“We should withhold federal law enforcement funds for cities that undermine federal immigration laws,” he said.

Because it’s campaign season, Bush ended his proposal by suggesting that the nation’s inability to come to consensus on immigration reform in recent years is not just President Obama’s fault, but is part of a plot to make life harder for Republicans.

“President Obama has had six-and-a-half years to address our broken immigration system. Instead of leading the nation towards consensus, he has divided the country,” Bush says. “One has to ask whether he is more interested in providing a wedge issue for his party than offering a solution for the country.”