It was a remarkable two days of legislative dysfunction, even for congressional Republicans, who have been pushing the limits of unhinged governance.
The House speaker, John Boehner, tried on Thursday to pass a bill dealing with the crisis of migrant children at the Texas border — a harsh bill to deport the children more quickly to their violent home countries in Central America, and to add more layers of border enforcement. But it wasn’t harsh enough to suit the Tea Party, and it was pulled for lack of votes. The hapless House leadership had to drag members back from the start of a five-week vacation to try again on Friday.
The revised legislation sought to appease the hard-liners, who were insisting on swiftly expelling migrant children but also intent on killing the Obama administration’s program to halt the deportations of young immigrants known as Dreamers. Tea Party members believe, delusionally, that the program, called DACA, has some connection to the recent surge of child migrants, who would never qualify for it. On Friday night, the House passed a bill that dragged immigration reform so far to the right that it would never become law.
As Congress takes the rest of the summer off, there may be no two happier House Republicans than Steve King and Michele Bachmann, charter members of the “hell no” caucus that resolutely blocks all efforts at sensible immigration reform. The Senate’s attempt to address the border crisis, meanwhile, is also dead — filibustered by Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who engineered the House revolt, was exultant. Nothing will happen there until September, if then.
Meanwhile, the border crisis is still a crisis and people are suffering. The Border Patrol and refugee programs will run short of money for aiding and processing traumatized children. Immigration courts will still be overloaded, due process will continue to be shortchanged or denied. Because House Republicans killed a comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate more than a year ago, the larger immigration system, choked by obsolete laws, backlogs and bureaucratic breakdowns, still awaits repairs.
Eleven million people are still living outside the law with no way to legalize their status. Farmers and other business owners who depend on immigrant labor are still looking to Congress to bring order and efficiency to the system. They have been waiting for at least a decade. They will have to wait some more.
Congressional nihilism has created a vacuum. Now it’s President Obama’s job to fill it, to keep his promise to end the border crisis and find ways to redirect immigration enforcement and protect possibly millions of families from unjust deportation. Of course, regardless of what he does, the system will still be marked by chaos and pain. And the hard-liners will scream at any action he takes.
Having spent the summer howling about a catastrophe at the border, Republicans are now congratulating themselves for refusing to solve it.