When I said "immigration reform," it turns out I meant "deportation."

Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Tea Party Rules Immigration, Boehner and House

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Days after the 2012 presidential election, in which less than one third of both Hispanic and Asian voters supported Republican candidate Mitt Romney, House Speaker John Boehner told ABC News that "a comprehensive approach" to immigration reform was "long overdue" and that he was "confident" a solution could be reached.  

Oh, well. Today House Republicans voted for what might be called "comprehensive anti-immigration reform."As promised, they backed an amendment to a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill to roll back President Barack Obama's November 2014 executive action easing deportations for up to five million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Then they kept pushing. They proposed to undo Obama's 2012 executive action easing enforcement against more than half a million "Dreamers" -- undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. And to unravel the administration's edifice of enforcement discretion, which enables government agents to prioritize enforcement against different classes of undocumented immigrants -- thugs now, grandmothers later -- and dates back to Obama's first term.

Republicans are now openly supporting mass deportation for the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. This week, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama distributed a 23-page "Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority" making the case. Sessions has supported de facto deportation for some time, while refraining from publicly saying so. His handbook invites colleagues to consider "mandatory repatriation for unaccompanied alien minors" and an end to "asylum loopholes." Many conservatives decry the release of undocumented children to U.S.-based relatives while they await immigration hearings. But Sessions appears to be calling for their return to Central America regardless of whether their lives are genuinely at risk there from gangs or abuse. What else can "mandatory repatriation" mean?

Obama's White House is long past imagining that an immigration deal with Republicans is possible, and Democrats and their immigration allies are eager to emphasize what, in an e-mail to me, immigration analyst Marshall Fitz of the liberal Campaign for American Progress called the "whites-only" electoral path that House Republicans have endorsed with today's amendments. (The Tea Party has met the 21st century and decided to pass.)

In Washington, the question of whether Republicans can succeed in withholding a portion of funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only through the end of February, is of great interest. (The Senate is unlikely to follow the House's lead, and the White House promised to veto the legislation if it did.) Nationally, the confirmation that Republicans are now the party of mass deportation will probably have a more profound and lasting effect. Indeed, it's unclear how the party walks back such a stark position just before it leaps into a presidential election. Romney's camp is already sending signals that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is too soft on immigration to survive the Republican primary (which may well be correct).

Hispanic daily La Opinion registered that the GOP has crossed a threshold. Republicans now seek specifically "to expel youth and break families," an editorial announced Monday.

This kind of legislative extremism on immigration is always explained as a gesture to please the conservative base. It's much more than that. It is also an attack on the Latino and immigrant communities, whose repercussions are as specific as inhuman and painful. It's a gesture to be remembered at the voting polls.

Less than two years ago, in March 2013, the Republican National Committee released its "Growth & Opportunity Project" report, which included discrete sections on reaching out to "Hispanics" and "Asian and Pacific Islander Americans."

That was the past, and the past is another political party. The Tea Party -- you know, the rabble rousers who were allegedly humbled and defeated by "establishment" Republicans in last year's primary elections -- has torched all that. The only question is how high the flames will rise by 2016.  

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Zara Kessler at zkessler@bloomberg.net