Opinion: Searching for a way forward on immigration

Not since 1986 has Congress solved the puzzle of bipartisan legislative action on immigration reform — and the past two weeks only reinforced the difficulty both parties will have in making any progress this year.

For Republicans, the ongoing surge of migrants at the southern border tops their complaints about the Biden Administration.

“Our nation is being invaded,” U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans declared at a recent border hearing held in Texas.

“Joe Biden has willfully caused a humanitarian and national security crisis at our southern border,” said U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, who has called for the Homeland Security Secretary to be impeached.

But while immigration is a hot-button topic for the GOP, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has not been able to fulfill his promise to hold a quick vote on a border policy bill — because Republicans can’t agree on the details of a plan.

It’s not just a GOP problem — Democrats are also at odds on immigration.

When the Biden Administration laid out new plans this week for the southern border, they were met with sharp attacks from fellow Democrats who said they weren’t much different from Donald Trump’s policies.

“It’s unconscionable, unacceptable, and un-American,” said U.S. Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., of the plan that would turn away most people seeking asylum, much like the Title 42 Coronavirus restrictions started under the Trump Administration.

One of the few bipartisan efforts in Congress would shield younger immigrant ‘Dreamers’ from being deported, opening up a plan to put them on a 10-to-12-year pathway to U.S. citizenship.

But the chief GOP sponsor of the ‘Dream Act’— U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. — said that bill won’t go anywhere until Congress addresses what he labeled a “tsunami of illegal immigration.”

With Congress paralyzed and unable to legislate, that leaves a policy vacuum usually filled by a President making various immigration policy changes — which are then often challenged in court.

We saw that with DACA from President Obama, with various immigration policies proposed by President Trump, and now with the latest changes from President Biden – as lawsuits and court fights about border policies have become routine.

Late last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a dispute about Title 42 COVID immigration restrictions, Justice Neil Gorsuch bemoaned the current political dynamic on immigration.

“We are a court of law, not policymakers of last resort,” Gorsuch wrote.

Congress can change the stalemate. And there are lawmakers who are genuinely looking for a middle-ground solution. But it won’t surprise anyone if nothing gets done – yet again.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com