Chuck Schumer Calls The GOP’s Immigration Reform Bluff

The Democrats’ point man for immigration reform is testing the sincerity of House Republicans’ assertions that they want to act on the issue but are hesitant because they don’t trust President Barack Obama to enforce the law.

Appearing Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered the GOP a way out: Pass a bill now but make it go into effect after Obama leaves office.

“They have said they want to do immigration reform but they don’t trust the president to enforce the law,” he said. “Let’s enact the law this year, but simply not let it actually start until 2017, after President Obama’s term is over. Now I think the rap against him that he won’t enforce the law is false — he’s deported more people than any other president — but you could actually have the law start in 2017 without doing much violence to it.”

House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) office quickly shot down the idea.

“The suggestion is entirely impractical, since it would totally eliminate the President’s incentive to enforce immigration law for the remainder of his term,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, told TPM in an email.

Schumer’s proposal is a significant compromise for Democrats, who shepherded a bipartisan immigration bill through the Senate last summer which immediately offers provisional legal status to unauthorized immigrants (before putting them on a 13-year path to citizenship). He’s now offering to push that date back to 2017. That won’t sit well with the pro-reform community. But it suggests that Democrats are eager to strike a deal and move the ball forward, even if it means accepting a scaled back version of the bill they prefer.

Schumer’s offer calls bluff on Boehner recent comments that it’s “going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation” because it’s unclear Obama “can be trusted to enforce our laws.”

“It’s a sincere effort to break through the current impasse,” said a Democratic Senate leadership aide. “If that’s the only impediment to getting this done, then taking it away should pave the way for reform.”

The more salient reason for his hesitation to advance reform is that many conservatives strongly oppose it on the substance. Many House Republicans also fear that it’ll harm the party in the congressional elections this November by depressing turnout among their voter base. On the other hand, inaction stands to harm the GOP in upcoming presidential elections by costing them Hispanic voters. Given the political consequences, Republican leaders are reticent to oppose reform on the merits.

Schumer echoed fears of pro-immigration advocates that if reform fails now, it may be deferred until after 2016 given the proximity to the presidential election. The Democrats’ No. 3 senator and guru on messaging and policy, Schumer was a leading author of the Senate immigration bill.

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