Friday, December 13, 2013

Boehner Hires Veteran Amnesty Advocate to Direct Immigration Policy

On Wednesday, December 4, Rebecca Tallent joined Speaker John Boehner's staff as his immigration policy director. Tallent brings with her a long history at the frontlines of the on-going push for massive increases in immigration and amnesty, helping Senator John McCain draft immigration bills during his amnesty push in the 2000's with the late Senator Kennedy. (Roll Call, Dec. 3, 2013). She also served as McCain's policy advisor on his presidential campaign in 2008, and then as his legislative director and Chief of Staff in his Senate office.   She left McCain in 2013 to join the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a pro-amnesty think tank that recently formed an "Immigration Task Force" dedicated to "building bipartisan support for reform." (BPC, "About the Task Force")

Tallent was deeply involved with the last failed amnesty push that ended in 2007, and her experience with Gang of Eight style immigration bills goes back even further. According to the previous BPC staff directory, though she started her career on Capitol Hill with John McCain in 2001 after graduating college, she first worked on immigration when she joined former Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe's (R-AZ) staff in 2003. The first immigration bill she helped draft was the "Border Security and Immigration Improvement Act" of 2003. That bill, which Kolbe sponsored with John McCain and Jeff Flake, would have created a new guest worker program allowing employers to hire unlimited numbers of foreign workers and would also have allowed illegal aliens a path to amnesty through the program.  (See Floor Statement of John McCain, Jul 25, 2003)

After that proposal failed to gain traction, she rejoined Sen. McCain's staff in 2005, where she helped to craft immigration bills throughout the sustained amnesty push during President George W. Bush's second term.  Each bill she worked on was based on the same principles of the current Senate bill, that is, amnesty for illegal aliens coupled with increased foreign workers. They included the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act" (S. 1033) of 2005, also known as the McCain-Kennedy bill, (see Washington Times, May 12, 2005), and then, finally, the amnesty bills of 2007, the "Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act" (H.R. 1645) and the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act" (S. 1348) of 2007.

Boehner's move has been widely interpreted as a strong signal that he is committed to pushing mass amnesty and guest worker legislation through the House. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a vocal Republican supporter of S. 744, said: "It's a huge, huge get for Speaker Boehner. She's not going to be doing this if it's going to be a waste of her time." (The Hill, Dec. 3, 2013) Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi and leader of the BPC Immigration Task Force, suggested the hire is an affirmation of BPC's support for amnesty. He said, "Our work at the Bipartisan Policy Center demonstrates that it's possible to develop immigration policy that addresses the interests of conservative Republicans, reform advocates and everyone in between. Speaker Boehner's choice to hire Becky is affirmation of his strong desire to move legislation in 2014." (BPC Press Release, Dec. 3, 2013)

Boehner's office has thus far made no attempt to dismiss claims that his move is aimed at improving his ability to push amnesty legislation. Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, stated: "The Speaker remains hopeful that we can enact step-by-step, common-sense immigration reforms — the kind of reforms the American people understand and support. Becky Tallent, a well-known expert in this field of public policy, is a great addition to our team and that effort." (Roll Call, Dec. 3, 2013)

Democratic leaders are also sounding optimistic that Boehner will force through an amnesty over the objections of his caucus. On December 3, Majority Leader Harry Reid proclaimed that though the Senate immigration bill is currently stalled, "there's going to be so much pressure on the House that they will have to pass it, and that Boehner "is going to cave in." (Las Vegas Sun, Dec. 4, 2013) Obama has also recently indicated that a step by step approach is acceptable as long as all the components of the Senate bill become law, stating: "If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don't care what it looks like." (Business Insider, Dec. 3, 2013)

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