The partisan divide in this country makes it a near impossibility for any bills of value to be enacted into law. Often it seems as if the only way legislation can be passed through both houses of Congress and signed by the president is if it is either devoid of substance (such as symbolic resolutions or the naming of post offices), is in response to a crisis (such as when the debt limit needs to be raised), or is a law that both parties can agree on.
While the third option is the rarest of the three, Congress currently has one such law before them for consideration. H.R. 2377, the “Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training (or ENLIST) Act” is being discussed as a way for the House of Representatives to get the ball rolling on one of the hottest political issues of our time: immigration. The bill, introduced by California Republican Jeff Denham last year, is pretty straightforward. Currently, only citizens and legal permanent residents can serve in the U.S. armed forces. ENLIST would allow those who were brought here when under the age of 15 to serve, and in exchange for their service, they would be allowed to apply for expedited consideration for U.S. citizenship, which is routinely granted to legal residents who have served. This, of course, only applies if they had served honorably, and hadn’t received anything less than an honorable discharge.
Although immigration reform advocates would argue that it would be constructive to extend this privilege to all undocumented immigrants, limiting the benefit to those who hadn’t broken the law on their own but, rather, were brought here by others should make it palatable even to those politicians who oppose rewarding the lawbreakers. There is no greater service an individual can provide to this county than laying one’s life on the line to defend it, and those who choose to do so without any public recognition should be rewarded.
But despite its inherent value, the law has faced numerous roadblocks. Just recently, it was stripped as an amendment of the National Defense Authorization Act (or NDAA) by House Armed Services committee chair Buck McKeon because conservative groups such as Heritage Action signaled that they would block the entire NDAA over this amendment. (To his credit, McKeon is a co-sponsor of the bill as a stand-alone measure.)
On the other side, Senate Democrats have also declined to add it as an amendment, with committee chair Senator Carl Levin telling BuzzFeed that there was “consensus” among Democratic senators to leave it out.
On both sides, political considerations trump common sense.
Republican opponents of the bill give a few different reasons for their opposition, but what they are opposing is a paper tiger. Some fear that it will be used as a Trojan horse for House leadership to go to conference with the Senate’s version of the bill (which would be more broad), and the bill emerging from the conference would be passed over conservative objections. But if House leadership were intent on disregarding the views of conservatives, they could have just passed the Senate bill of 2013 using Democrat votes to achieve a majority.
Others, such as the Heritage Foundation’s James J. Carafano, say that the law “is a slap in the face to those who want to come here and play by the rules.” This comment ignores the fact that the bill does not provide a path to legalization for those who knowingly broke the rules; it does not recognize the tremendous sacrifice made by an individual who volunteers to serve in this country’s military.
Democrats are playing politics as well. Senator Schumer said, “We are not going to go along with minor fixes that fail to address the huge systematic problems of our immigration system.” Schumer argued that allowing for the passage of ENLIST would lessen the Democrats’ ability to get everything that they want out of a broad sweeping immigration reform bill. But the Republicans in the House have already made it clear that the Senate bill will not go anywhere, and absent a real compromise, they have no intention on moving on it.
And while both parties refuse to give a little in order to get things done, the ones who are paying the price are the immigrants with no solutions to their status problem.
Senate Democrats would be wise to heed the words that President Obama said to opponents of his “Stimulus Bill” back in 2009, and allow some measures to proceed. “We can’t afford,” said the president, “to make perfect the enemy of the absolutely necessary.”
Republicans should also be aware that issues of this magnitude do require that they compromise. And if compromise is defined as management theorist Mary Parker Follett did almost 100 years ago, that both sides need to give something up, passing the ENLIST Act would be better than a compromise. Both sides would be able to help immigrants without compromising their values in any real way.