Despite the very public failure on the part of the 111th Congress to pass any type of comprehensive immigration reform (including the collapse of the DREAM Act), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) plans to reach out to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to work on the issue again in the 112th Congress. While Sen. Graham initially signaled that he would be open to working with Democrats to find immigration solutions, he later changed his tune to more traditional restrictionist rhetoric—even going so far as to call the DREAM Act a “nightmare.” The question becomes then, are politicians too polarized to come to a compromise or will public pressure to find a solution push past the politics of the issue and find a solution?

An indication of the polarization and the difficulties awaiting immigration reform was given before the 112th Congress convenes on January 5. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) stated the partisan gap on immigration was “almost irreconcilable” and that the “basic sticking point” was “the difference between legal immigration and illegal immigration.” Sen. Graham announced that he wanted to implement a ten-point border security plan and stop birthright citizenship before passing immigration reform—two issues likely to keep Democrats away from the negotiating table.

Rep. Barton also acknowledged that the Hispanic vote is a “key cornerstone of our base.” Still, extremism on the part of some Republican voters and politicians has forced other Republicans to reconsider their party identity. Muhammad Ali Hassan, a high-profile Colorado politician, stated last month that he would change parties after what he felt was an election year dominated by bigotry on the part of the right. Somos Republicans, a conservative Latino group from Colorado, has lobbied Hassan not to change parties, and instead try to change the Republican party from within. Even then, Director of Somos Republicans Steve Rodriguez acknowledged:

Let’s just say people involved in the party here have told me to leave the party. They don’t like my views on the rhetoric they’re using. They see me as being soft on immigration. But across the country we’ve had GOP officials call Hispanics rabbits and cockroaches… I’m not going to be bashful about being opposed to that… Our group wants to root out that kind of rhetoric and the people behind it. We want to root them out of the party and not let them root us out of the party.

Regardless of the hopeful intentions of like-minded politicians on immigration issues like Sen. Menendez and certain Republican moderates, it seems overly obvious to say that comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely to pass the 112th Congress. Pressures facing politicians opposing immigration reform, such as the growing Hispanic vote and the potential loss of more moderate members of their parties, are unlikely to mount high enough to bridge the gap between the two sides. But unless something unexpected happens, an already polarized debate is set to become more so over the next two years.

Photo by lukexmartin