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Opinion: Columnists

When young illegal immigrants cross border, Obama gives them a lawyer

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Politics,Opinion,Byron York,Columnists,Immigration,Barack Obama,Marco Rubio,John Boehner,Eric Cantor

A few days ago Majority Leader Eric Cantor released the House Republican legislative agenda for this summer. Lawmakers will work on job creation, energy, Veterans Affairs, taxes and more - but not on immigration reform.

It's hard to find a more telling sign that an overhaul of the nation's immigration system is dead, at least for this year and perhaps for longer.

'Since October, more than 47,000 children traveling without parents have been caught...a 92 percent increase over the same period last year."

In the Senate, with a supportive Democratic majority and extensive bipartisan cooperation, it took five months of intensive work, from January to June 2013, to pass the Gang of Eight comprehensive reform bill.

The House, on the other hand, has a Republican majority that mostly opposes reform, and almost no bipartisan cooperation. Add to that the fact that it is already June of an election year, with the coming fall consumed by campaigning, and it's clear a big immigration reform bill – or even a series of smaller ones – has no chance.

It's not unusual for rumors to go around that Speaker John Boehner has some sort of plan to pass reform after Republican members have cleared primary challenges. But nobody, not even the best-connected Hill insiders, seems to know what the alleged plan is, or whether it really exists.

Of course, such a plan, were it put into action, would be opposed by an overwhelming majority of House Republicans. Passing it with Democratic votes would mean political death for Boehner. But the rumors still pop up.

The fact is, when it comes to immigration, nobody trusts anybody in the House. Republicans and Democrats don't trust each other, Republicans don't trust each other, and Republicans, and even some Democrats, don't trust the White House.

There's a significant group of House Republicans who suspect Boehner and Cantor might try to use the passage of any immigration-related bill, no matter how small, to press for a much larger reform package. So just to be safe, they don't want to pass anything.

And now, reform prospects have been dimmed further by the administration's response to a building wave of illegal immigrants attempting to cross into the U.S. from Mexico. "Since October, more than 47,000 children traveling without parents have been caught trying to cross the southwest border," the New York Times reported recently, "a 92 percent increase over the same period last year."

How did the administration react? On Friday, it announced the formation of something called "Justice AmeriCorps" to provide taxpayer-funded lawyers to help those young illegal immigrants fight deportation. "We're taking a historic step to strengthen our justice system and protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

There's little doubt Obama has encouraged a surge of new illegal immigrants to try to enter the U.S. The entire thrust of administration policy has been to end or curtail deportations of young people. Word gets out in Mexico and Central America. More come. And when they come illegally, the president's reaction is to give them a lawyer. So even more will come in the future.

That doesn't create confidence among Republicans who doubt Obama's commitment to border enforcement. "Everything the administration is doing is spurring on more illegal immigration, telling would-be border crossers to make the trek because the U.S. will spend whatever it takes to keep you here and unite your extended family in America," says a Hill aide opposed to comprehensive reform. "Tax-paying American citizens fighting to comply with the IRS or the EPA must wonder: Where's my free lawyer? One group of people has to follow all the rules and pay all the costs, and the other group doesn't."

Since the beginning of the nearly two-year reform fight, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who championed comprehensive reform in the Senate but has now cooled on his own bill, warned that President Obama would act by himself if Congress didn't.

"I believe that this president will be tempted, if nothing happens in Congress, to issue an executive order as he did for the Dream Act kids a year ago," Rubio said in August 2013, "where he basically legalizes 11 million people by the sign of a pen."

Well, nothing is going to happen in Congress. After November, Obama will be 100 percent lame duck, with no more elections to worry about. He might do precisely what Rubio predicted. Or, with a crisis of his own creation building on the Mexican border, he might hesitate to make things even worse. But one thing is sure: He won't get any help from Capitol Hill.

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Byron York

Chief Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner