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Charlie Mitchell: Hardball Haley ready to deal on immigration

 

Charlie Mitchell

 

 

OXFORD -- When governor, Haley Barbour dominated the Legislature. He defied observers (me) who pointed out that when members of the 1890 House and Senate wrote the state 1890 Constitution, they assured themselves the power to slap silly any governor silly who tried to thwart their wishes. 

 

Instead, Barbour -- only the second Republican governor to serve under that Constitution and without the supermajorities his party has today -- took charge. 

 

How did he do it? 

 

Hardball. 

 

More than one lawmaker has said that the governor made it clear. Support his agenda or face defeat come re-election time. And every one of them knew that Barbour, correctly recognized as a political genius, could make it happen. Remember, he returned to his home state only after serving as senior advisor to President Ronald Reagan, chairing the Republican National Committee when the party gained U.S. House and Senate majorities for the first time in 40 years and founding one of the most powerful and influential lobbying firms in Washington, D.C. 

 

Said directly, Haley Barbour knows where buttons are and when and how to push them. 

 

So, why the big buildup of Barbour as a strident political purist? Here's why: Since leaving Mississippi again, he's devoted a chunk of his time and expertise to bridge-building. More specifically, he's been co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Immigration Task Force. 

 

Now a lot of people may not know anything bipartisan exists in toxic D.C., but yes, there are solution-focused groups. They're not on TV much, mainly because they don't scream and call each other names -- but they do exist. 

 

Barbour's position is that challenges related to immigration are real and the political camps have talked past each other instead of to each other long enough. 

 

Givens, as he defines them: 

 

  • America needs and is benefitted by the labor immigrants provide. 

     

  • Many immigrants enhance the quality of life in communities. 

     

  • Open borders is not a realistic policy for this or any other nation. 

     

  • Entering the country illegally is a crime. Criminal acts must be punished. 

     

    Few, if any, could take issue with any of those objective realities. 

     

    Back in 2014 as President Barack Obama prepared to use executive powers to enact some immigration provisions, Republicans who had the majority in Congress warned him that would poison the pool, slow their work on reforms. 

     

    That was laughable, of course, because both parties had already been using immigration as a political football since the 1970s, if not before. 

     

    Barbour, at the time, called out his beloved party for once again grandstanding on the issue. Solutions, not more rhetoric, were important for the nation as a whole. Barbour said, "Republicans, regardless of what the president does, should go ahead with a package of immigration reform bills." 

     

    Writing for Time magazine earlier this month, Barbour again donned his bipartisan hat, He first stated (as both parties have when in power) that the nation's borders must be secured to the extent possible. He continued, "People who have entered the U.S. illegally but have been good citizens, have not committed (other) crimes, have paid their taxes, have supported themselves -- they ought to be treated just like anybody else who commits a nonviolent crime." 

     

    That sounds logical. 

     

    "They should be put on probation and have to pay a fine," he continued. "At the end of that probationary period, if they've been good citizens, then they ought to be allowed to get in line to try and get citizenship if they want it." 

     

    There. That certainly cuts through all the hate- and fear-mongering coming from the right and all the "babies in cages" stories touted from the left. 

     

    Are there aspects of the "Barbour plan" that are less than ideal or need more definition? Sure. What does "get in line" mean? What level of proof of productivity would merit a place in line? There would still be some gaps, some flaws, some cases that don't fit the most common situations. That's why there are immigration courts where judges have a measure of discretion. 

     

    The dithering on this topic and, yes, the grandstanding that has prevailed in Congress for decades now can and should come to an end. 

     

    There's no greater proof than the fact that Hardball Haley is and has been ready and willing to size up the situation, state the facts and chart a balanced plan of action. 

     

    "(T)here are a lot of immigrants who entered the U.S. legally who are very good for our community and country," Barbour wrote. 

     

    Why is that so hard for some to accept? 

     

    Charlie Mitchell is an associate dean of journalism at the University of Mississippi. Email reaches him at [email protected]

     

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