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The rapid rise and rapid fall of a bipartisan immigration deal

The door was open to a bipartisan compromise on immigration policy. Republicans appear to have closed that door altogether.


For advocates of immigration reform, there was unexpectedly good news two weeks ago. With time running out in Congress’ lame-duck sessions, independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina started circulating a “draft framework” on a bipartisan agreement.

It wasn’t perfect, but the blueprint offered a constructive way forward. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent was first to report on the contents of the agreement, which includes a path to citizenship for 2 million “Dreamers,” new resources to speed up the processing of asylum seekers, expedited removal of migrants who don’t qualify for asylum, an extension of the Title 42 Covid health restrictions, and, of course, increased investments for Border Patrol and border security.

Suddenly, the moribund effort had a pulse. Within days of the agreement coming together, NBC News reported that influential business leaders were excited by the opportunity and expressed support for the Sinema/Tillis reforms. Around the same time, the Border Patrol union praised the framework, as did prominent voices from conservative media.

The door was clearly open to a possible breakthrough. That is, until yesterday, when the door appeared to close. Sargent, two weeks after breaking the story, wrote a postmortem of sorts:

Democratic leaders have privately informed numerous stakeholders that it isn’t going to happen in the current Congress because of Republican opposition, according to sources familiar with the discussions. At least one GOP leader has declared the same.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez added that the bill is “dead [in] this Congress,” due to “scant Republican support for the plan.”

Sargent’s report in the Post went on to note that it was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to one Capitol Hill source, who “informed Sinema and Tillis that he wouldn’t allow it to be attached to the end-of-year spending omnibus bill.”

Circling back to our recent coverage, the broader partisan panel is hardly subtle. During George W. Bush’s presidency, for example, there was a breakthrough compromise deal on immigration. The agreement failed when congressional Republicans balked.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, a similar compromise took shape and passed the Senate with relative ease. It also failed when House Republicans balked.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, there was an additional wrinkle when the White House insisted on literal, physical border barriers — a so-called “wall” — but even when Democrats agreed to the terms of an agreement, Republicans rejected the compromise.

And now, in the Biden era, another bipartisan blueprint will fall short because of GOP opposition.

A cynic might suspect that Republicans, in true post-policy fashion, are more interested in complaining about the broken system than taking meaningful steps toward fixing it.

Roll Call published a related report, referencing a congressional aide familiar with the immigration talks who said the Sinema/Tillis deal would be “ready to be introduced next Congress.”

That’s certainly a nice thought, and I’m all for aiming high, but it’s also best to set realistic expectations. A GOP-led House, dominated by far-right Republicans who do not believe in compromise, especially on immigration policy, will almost certainly block progress on the issue until 2025 at the earliest.