THE BACKLASH has begun against immigration reform, specifically the provision that would legalize the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants and ultimately give these people a shot at citizenship. Led by conservative Republicans and whipped into a froth by right-wing radio talk-show hosts, opponents of reform are banking on derailing the measure with a strategy of delay and dismemberment.
The focus of these efforts is the House, where many Republican backbenchers remain unsold on immigration reform despite the party’s disastrous loss of the Latino vote in 2012.
On Thursday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and an opponent of a pathway to citizenship, served notice that the delay-and-dismemberment plan was under way. Rather than wait for a comprehensive immigration bill to wend its way through the Senate, or for a roughly similar plan to emerge from a bipartisan group in the House, Mr. Goodlatte said his committee would consider a series of smaller bills.
That strategy gives conservatives a chance to say they were for immigration reform before they were against it. They may vote for bills that would tighten border security, provide a steady source of migrant farm workers and expand a program that companies may use to verify the immigration status of employees. Then, decrying “amnesty,” they can shoot down measures that would extend legal status and eventual citizenship to most of the undocumented.
In poll after poll, large majorities of Americans say they favor granting legal status to illegal immigrants, most of whom have been in the country for more than a decade and are vital to the U.S. economy. Even if some conservatives cling to the idea of “self-deportation,” most Americans acknowledge that 11 million people cannot be bullied into leaving the country and should not be left in legal limbo.
Recognizing that, a number of Republican leaders have taken the lead in pushing for a comprehensive bill, courageously urging their party to drop the myth of mass deportation. In effect, these lawmakers are pleading with their colleagues not to commit long-term electoral suicide by continuing to alienate the nation’s fastest-growing minority voting bloc. Still, they face a struggle.
The most prominent among these leaders is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a putative contender for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016, who is taking abuse on conservative talk radio for having helped draft the Senate bill. Mr. Rubio has been joined by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who appeared last week at a series of events in Chicago, plugging a comprehensive approach alongside a pro-reform Democrat, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (Ill.).
“We need it for national security reasons. We need it for the economy,” Mr. Ryan said. “We do not want to have a society where we have different classes of people who cannot reach their American dream by not being a full citizen.”
This is common sense, but it is also the kind of talk that has been unwelcome in many Republican circles. The question is whether the GOP, after so many years of denial, is capable of weaning itself from its delusions.
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