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Immigration cover story [Editorial]

Even his supporters must have gotten a chuckle out of House Speaker John Boehner's declaration that immigration reform is in its death throes in his chamber because President Barack Obama can't be trusted to enforce whatever law they pass. As a bit of political theater, it was a great way to tie in Republican 2014 talking points about health care reform and executive orders, but the demise of immigration reform is strictly a single party affair.

Pardon us while we restate the obvious. The Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate approved immigration reform with overwhelming bipartisan support. President Obama says he'll even embrace further compromise over the most controversial element of the plan — the pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S.

And say what you will about a president's executive orders (and the fact that George W. Bush had issued more of them at this point in his second term than his successor), Mr. Obama's record on border security is pretty clear: He's deported 1.9 million immigrants, by far the most of any administration, and spent more money and assigned more patrols to secure the border than any president in history, too.

Now, we'll concede that Republicans don't trust Mr. Obama. They've built up a healthy distaste for all things connected with this administration — a robust antipathy that started even before he was sworn into office. This is nothing new, and their devotion to opposing whatever Mr. Obama endorses is why Congress has become so unproductive by any measure.

But the apparent failure of immigration reform in the U.S. House of Representatives is not about the White House, it's about the GOP's tea party wing and their fear of immigrants. It isn't Democrats who have been pestering House Republicans around the clock in recent weeks with charges of "amnesty" or liberal talk radio hosts who have been savaging the measure as a concession to Hispanic voters. Rather, it's the usual suspects from the right wing fringe.

That the bill wasn't simply dead on arrival in the House months ago is likely only because some in the party still recognize that demographics are working against them. Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" strategy won him all of 27 percent of the Hispanic votes cast in 2012. But, of course, this isn't a presidential election year, it's a midterm, and most in the House are more focused on their political base as they seek reelection.

That would likely include Rep. Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho who has said publicly that Mr. Boehner could lose his speakership if he pursues reform this year. Blaming Mr. Obama appears to be the speaker's Plan B to give cover to moderates in his party and their supporters in the business community as they capitulate to the extremists and reject immigration reform of any kind.

As Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions recently noted, Mr. Boehner's position is the only one that prevents a deep division with the party. Better to blame the fallout on the fight over the Affordable Care Act, the favored scape goat from now through November, than recognize the reality that House Republicans are controlled by people who don't want illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, let alone be afforded an opportunity to become U.S. citizens.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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