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Which Way for the GOP on Immigration?

by Pili Tobar on 02/12/2013 at 2:39pm

senate hearing

With the immigration debate moving headlong into its legislative stage, the pressing question for Republican lawmakers remains – will most continue to side with the anti-immigrant voices in their midst?  Or will the GOP’s recent pro-immigration reform talk be followed with concrete action that demonstrates that the majority of the Party truly is charting a new course?  The stakes are high, with the Republican Party’s long-term viability in national elections and many statewide contests directly affected by the answer.

Here’s our take on the fight within the GOP in both the Senate and House.

Senate: Ahead of Wednesday morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee immigration hearing, many Senate Republicans have gone public with their support for a new immigration direction.  Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) will offer the official response to President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight and will likely take the opportunity to offer pro-reform talking points (while avoiding the crucial details about how long his proposed path to citizenship would take).

On the pro-reform side, tomorrow’s Senate hearing will feature “Gang of Eight” Republicans such as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ).  But the committee also includes prominent anti-reform  members, such as Ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and the leading immigration hypocrite in Congress, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).

In contrast to the pro-reform lineup of witnesses called by the Democratic majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the two minority witnesses invited by the Republicans will parrot restrictionist talking points.  In fact, both ICE Union President Chris Crane and Center for Immigration Studies’ (CIS) Jessica Vaughan already appeared as a witnesses at the House immigration hearing just last week and recycled the same old, anti-immigrant arguments.  Evidently, the anti-reform faction on the committee didn’t get the memo that the 2012 election was a game-changer and produced a mandate for broad reform that creates a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

House: House Republican leaders, like Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), have been highlighting newfound interest in immigration reform.  Other House Republican converts to the “new immigration direction” line of thinking include Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), a former immigration hardliner representative from Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-CO) old congressional district who recently endorsed a DREAMer path to citizenship.

However, despite these signals about a House Republican caucus ready for reform, some of the most vocal immigration spokespeople in the House Republican caucus remain the usual, anti-immigrant suspects.  Last week, the House Judiciary Committee held an immigration hearing featured heavy doses of warmed-over, anti-immigrant talking points and a failed attempt by House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to label earned citizenship an extreme position.

And as National Journal reports, the House Republican Conference had planned to unveil “GOP en Español” tonight, to disseminate the GOP reaction to the State of Union address to Spanish-language audiences.  However, the notorious anti-immigrant duo of Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) scuttled the idea, arguing that “the new program sent mixed signals about the importance of English in the United States,” as National Journal recapped.  Rep. King is the notorious xenophobe who has compared immigrants to dogs and cattle and called immigration a “slow motion Holocaust,” while Rep. Sensenbrenner’s 2005 legislation sought to turn undocumented immigrants and anyone who assisted them into felons, sparking a massive mobilization that brought forth the present day immigration reform movement.  Not exactly the best spokespeople for a Republican Party seeking to make new inroads with Latino voters and to adopt a less extreme immigration brand image.

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