August 23, 2013

Yesterday I noted here that GOP Rep. John Carter of Texas had offered up the conservative case for comprehensive immigration reform — showing how a Republican can (if he or she wants to) counter-program the likes of GOP Reps. Robert Goodlatte and Steve King. Goodlatte’s insistence on doing immigration reform piecemeal (which smacks of an effort to smother reform’s chances), and King’s ravings about cantaloupe-sized calves trooping across the border, have defined the position of House conservatives in the media, but there is a conservative case for reform.

Here’s another good example of it. GOP Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama delivered a long and remarkable speech to his constituents in which he directly took on not only King, but Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, another anti-reform diehard — and made a faith-based and compassionate argument for reform.

Bachus represents a district that as of last year was the most Republican in the country,  and in 2012 he faced a Tea Party primary that was partly about immigration. You can watch the whole Bachus speech, which was captured and sent to me by the pro-immigration America’s Voice, right here.

Some key quotes:

“Almost 99 percent of ‘em are here for the same reasons that our ancestors came here. They’re here for a better life.”

And:

“Y’all may think I’m copping out, but with my Christian faith, it’s hard for me to say that I’m gonna divide these families up.”

And:

“Bring ‘em into our system. Give them legal status. They will pay Social Security. They’ll work hard.”

And:

“I’ll tell you this, as your Congressman, I am not gonna separate families or send them back.”

Bachus hits all the key notes. He casts his opposition to breaking up “familes” as incompatible with Christian faith. He notes that the status quo itself represents unacceptable amnesty and says that only by bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows will they contribute to society — casting reform as necessary for accountability and an end to free riding.

Bachus rebuffs the populist anti-reform case of Senator Sessions by noting immigrants will do jobs Americans won’t. And in a dig at Steve King, he said undocumented immigrants came to this country for the same reasons King’s and his own ancestors did — a rebuff not just to King’s rank nativism but to the more frequent charge of “amnesty,” i.e., that the undocumented are simply lawbreakers who must not be “rewarded.”

Just last year, Bachus fended off a primary challenge from State Senator Scott Beason, who was well known for sponsoring a tough anti-immigration bill and attacked Bachus, who opposed it, for having “sided with illegal aliens.” All indications are that Bachus has yet to politically self destruct over his advocacy.

None of this is to say House Republicans will pass anything significant. But what this shows — again — is that House Republicans, even conservative ones, could find a way to supporting comprehensive reform if they wanted to.

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UPDATE: Here’s video of a key segment of Bachus’s speech:

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.