Once again President Trump has managed to distract attention from a more important issue. This time, it was with his pardon of a racist, octogenarian Arizona sheriff who violated the Constitution in his mad pursuit of illegal immigrants.
Pardoning Joe Arpaio was a smokescreen that does nothing to resolve the status of this country’s 11 million undocumented residents. They need a path out of the shadows that allow them to be exploited by unscrupulous employers and criminals who know they are afraid to go to the police.
It was just another ego-boosting move by Trump to please his xenophobic base.
It matters little to the overall welfare of this country whether the 85-year-old Arpaio spends a day in jail or has his conviction expunged. Don’t get upset by Trump’s choosing to pardon “Sheriff Joe” as one of the worst storms to hit the Gulf Coast approached. Get upset that other than pardoning Arpaio and threatening a government shutdown to get his border wall built, Trump has been about as dry as a tapped-out oil well when it comes to immigration ideas.
This is a tough topic, but it isn’t insolvable. In fact, Congress came up with logical solutions twice in the last 11 years but each time lacked the political resolve to turn decent bills into law.
In 2006, Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) put partisanship aside and drafted a comprehensive immigration bill that required undocumented immigrants to pay a fine and any back taxes to apply for a six-year worker visa. After that period, they could pay another fine to get a green card granting permanent residency and ultimately apply for citizenship. The Senate passed the bill, but not the House.
In 2013, the so-called Gang of Eight, which included four Republican and four Democrat senators, drafted legislation that set up a 13-year path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. The bill also would strengthen border security, provide more green cards for both farm and high-tech workers, and step up prosecution of employers who exploit illegal residents. That bill died, too.
Both failed efforts showed Congress can write effective immigration legislation, but can’t pass it. Republicans weren’t about to support anything during the first Obama administration that might help him get reelected. Once he was reelected, their obstructionism was designed to thwart any of his would-be Democratic successors.
But Trump’s victory as an outsider has not only perpetuated the division between Democrats and Republicans, it has created fissures within his own GOP. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitchell McConnell seem ready for mortal combat after their “Kill Obamacare” fiasco, with each blaming the other for failing to repeal the health insurance law.
With Republicans being unable to work with each other, there seems little chance of an agreement with Democrats on immigration. Especially not with Trump as president. His pardon of Arpaio and insistence on building a wall, whether Mexico pays a dime of the cost as he promised it would, shows he’s not looking for real solutions. He’s looking for opportunities to appease his “America First” base.