In the past few weeks, new voices have been added to the call for immigration reform—Republicans who recognize that ignoring immigration is ignoring the future of their own party. Their message isn’t that simple, however. Instead of simply calling for immigration reform, they blame President Obama for failing to keep his campaign promise of passing immigration reform in his first year. This serves two useful purposes—courting the Latino vote without necessarily alienating the base—many of whom are all too happy to lay the blame for healthcare, the economy, and every other issue at the President’s feet. The real question, however, is whether recent Republican support for immigration reform is political grandstanding or genuine support Latino voters and countless other Americans who care about immigration reform can count on when immigration legislation is on the floor.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) walks the line better than most. Although he has sharply criticized President Obama for doing too little—characterizing the President’s recent support as “political spin” in anticipation of the immigration march this past weekend—he has steadfastly remained committed to working on reform. Most recently, he told Spanish language television that he remains firm on immigration, but doubts whether moderates of either party will be willing to tackle yet another tough issue this year.
But the tide may be turning, particularly if it provides an opportunity to make the President look weak on immigration. More Republicans have acknowledged that the GOP must change its tune on Latinos and immigration, especially in the lead-up to midterm elections. This week, RNC Chair Michael Steele not only agreed to a meeting with an immigration advocacy group (after the group staged a sit-in), but went a step further to say that he’s concerned with harsh GOP rhetoric on immigration.
In a recent Roll Call article, former Republic House Majority Leader Tom Delay highlighted the need for immigration reform and chastised the President’s current approach to passing immigration legislation.
Illegal immigration and our broken immigration system is a serious matter and should be a Congressional and presidential priority. Difficult? Yes. But sometimes the things that are the most difficult are the things that most need to be done … Our country will never build a wall tall enough or a ditch wide enough to keep a man from feeding his family. Finding a comprehensive solution to illegal immigration means that isn’t our only answer. Unfortunately, the president seems to have other priorities.
Last week, the newly formed Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles held a panel on reclaiming CIR for conservatives. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), who says he has been working on a secret congressional working group on immigration, reiterated that President Obama failed to deliver on his promise of immigration reform in his first year. Diaz-Balart also pinned blame on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for not allowing any immigration legislation to hit the floor until health care passed, then committed his support for CIR.
Ever since Pelosi became Speaker of the House, she has not allowed any legislation on immigration to hit the floor. If the House could work its will on this issue, we would see to it that these immigration principles become law. We’ve had a bi-partisan working group working on this issue for over a year now. I pledge to continue working to keep immigration legislation alive and to press the House to have this issue taken up.
The panel also highlighted recent polling data by Resurgent Republic which reveals that while “Hispanic voters are more likely to identify as Democrats,” they are also “more open to persuasion this November due to concern over current Democrat policies on spending, debt and national security.”
In the months leading up to midterm elections, we will likely see more Republicans reaching out to Latinos, distancing themselves from anti-immigrant groups and criticizing the President for inaction on immigration reform. Pressuring the President to spend more political capital on immigration seems like a smart political move, but you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Let’s hope that if and when an immigration reform bill is on the floor, that these same critics will hold themselves accountable for their own pledges of support or risk alienating many of the voters they seek to court.
Photo by Brian W. Tobin.