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A Full House for Reform Trumps a Pair of Kings

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The Scope and Energy of Immigration Reform Activities Beats the Ranting of a Pair of Nativist Kings 

Creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is supported by a bipartisan majority of the House.  The only thing standing in the way is Republican leadership’s insistence on requiring a majority of Republicans to support it before they schedule a vote.  Unfortunately, two men – both of whom have the last name of King – seem intent on holding the Party and the country back.

As Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice puts it: “The question is, when will Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and other House leaders realize that a full House is supposed to beat a pair of Kings?”

Consider the latest developments on the pro- and anti-immigration reform side that show the extreme imbalance between the forces of progress and the forces of stagnation:

  • Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) became the 21st House Republican to support immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the 11 million.  At a town hall meeting in Illinois, Rep. Schock said, “I think that at some point, when the border is secured and people pay their taxes and they haven’t committed any violations of laws.  They have been here for a provisionary period, then they can apply for citizenship.”  In response, Chicago Sun-Times political columnist Lynn Sweet noted, “I think that Schock is the first GOP Illinois House member to support a path to citizenship, a subject of much debate within the GOP.”  By our count, this makes Schock the twenty-first House Republican to declare his support for such a path, with others continuing to work through their positions more privately.  Adding Schock to the 200 Democrats that Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) says back commonsense immigration reform, it’s undeniable that pro-reform forces now have a majority of House members on their side.
  • Today brings another array of supportive voices in local newspapers. In addition to the in-state and in-district editorials and op-eds we highlighted yesterday, the pastor of a Lutheran church in Frankfort, IN, Rev. Joshua Burkholder, writes an op-ed in the local Journal & Courier noting, “I know that I’m just one of countless Lutherans and people of all faiths who are calling on the House to pass this type of bill.  Our stance is not unique; it unites us with a majority of Americans for a new law that keeps families together and offers a road map to earned citizenship for 11 million aspiring new Americans.”  Philadelphia-area first generation immigrant entrepreneur Det Ansinn writes a letter to the editor published in several suburban Philadelphia papers, stating, “The failure of the House to act not only stalls the bill, but puts the brakes on our economic recovery.”  Columnist Ernest Dumas writes in the Arkansas Times that immigrants “constitute a huge part of Arkansas’s economic and cultural future, and we ought to see to it that they have all the educational and economic opportunities that we can give them, for our own sake.  Why would we want to keep them and their families in the shadows?”
  • Following a successful series of events to kick off the August recess, the pro-immigration reform movement continues to turn up the heat on Members of Congress.  Coverage of key in-district events includes the Los Angeles Times recap of the “Countdown to Citizenship:” “They laid out plans for a busy month of protests targeting California Republicans who are home this month during the August congressional recess.  Activists said they planned to visit the offices of every Republican member of Congress across the state and stage canvassing operations in many of their districts.  Bakersfield will be the center of many of the actions because it is home to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the majority whip and the third-most powerful Republican in the House. On Sunday, 11 immigrants will start a 285-mile protest walk from Sacramento to McCarthy’s office in Bakersfield.  On Aug. 14  thousands of activists from around the state will meet there for a rally.”  The Cleveland Plain Dealer notes of a rally in Cleveland that featured SEIU international secretary-treasurer Eliseo Medina noting the importance of making noise in Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) home state:  “We have to make sure Ohioans get ahold of him and say: ‘Allow the vote; and let the chips fall where they may.’”  The article highlights that an “Immigration Road Show would include 360 events during August.  Some, like the Cleveland stop – which about 200 people attended – focused the base of supporters.  Other events would focus on making sure members of Congress support immigration reform.” Other coverage of local developments includes coverage of events and activities in Colorado and in Arizona in support of reform.
  • In suburban Chicago, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined with Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) along with “local Aurora business and community leaders to trumpet a bill recently passed by the Senate” and to hail “what may be the best shot at meaningful immigration reform in their political careers.”  Last week, Sen. Durbin teamed up and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and an array of local leaders from faith, business, labor, and Latino community in Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) congressional district to hold a pro-immigration forum in the wake of King’s ugly comments equating DREAMers with drug runners who have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling seventy-five pounds of marijuana across the desert.”  The Iowa forum, which featured leaders from the labor movement, business, DREAMer, faith, and other perspectives, was the largest pro-immigrant gathering ever held in King’s district.  A paltry 11 protestors showed up, in contrast to a crowd of hundreds there to show that Steve King doesn’t speak for them on immigration.
  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and current head of the American Action Forum, notes in a column in The Hill that pessimistic conventional wisdom on the prospects for reform in the House are off-base, writing, “In short, immigration reform is alive in the House because it’s good policy.  While some may balk at engaging in debate on any measure short of a full-throated reprise of the Senate bill, what’s important is not the process but the legislative outcome.  The majority of thoughtful legislators on both sides of the aisle want to strengthen America’s immigration policies.  To get this right may take a little longer.  But the path to reform runs through good policy, not fringe elements, and a keeping a tight focus on policy will allow the politics to align.”

Meanwhile, on the anti-immigrant side of the debate, two influential Kings and a discredited policy continue to have unfortunate influence among some Republicans:

  • Fresh off the widespread condemnation of his comments comparing DREAMers to drug smugglers, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is now…thinking of running for President?  As CNN notes, “Iowa Rep. Steve King, whose hard line immigration rhetoric has angered some of his fellow Republicans and delighted Democrats eager to keep Hispanic voters in their fold, is quietly planning meetings with political activists in the early presidential primary state of South Carolina, CNN has learned.  King will travel to the state in late August to attend the Charleston Meeting, a closed-door gathering of right-leaning politicians and business leaders organized by author and activist Mallory Factor, two Republican sources said.”  Needless to say, a King run will effectively kill the Republican Party’s effort to re-brand itself among Latino voters.  In fact, the longer Steve King stays in the spotlight while House leaders continue to punt on a vote for a different version of reform, the more it helps remind observers that the House Republican caucus nearly unanimously supported King’s amendment to de-fund the DREAMer deferred action program in June, a vote that would subject DREAMers to deportation.
  • Meanwhile, the New York Times profiles leading Georgia-based anti-immigrant activist D.A. King.  Lest their be any confusion about the roots of his anti-immigrant outlook, Times reporter Julia Preston writes, “Mr. King says his wrath grew slowly, beginning in the 1990s with a feud with Mexican neighbors who disrupted the quiet of his leafy street.”  King tells Preston, “I was taught that we have an American culture to which immigrants will assimilate…And I am incredibly resentful that’s not what’s happening anymore.” As the article highlights, King is not a lone activist without influence – he instead has the ear of Georgia Republicans and conservative activists and works closely with the national anti-immigration organization Numbers USA.  Yet as Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), tells Preston, “If the Republican Party gets stuck with D. A. King and his extremist xenophobic narrative, they are setting themselves up for future failure.”  Backing up this assertion, the article states that the “number of registered Latino voters in the state grew to 184,000 in 2012 from 10,000 a decade earlier, with more than 200,000 legal immigrants eligible to become citizens.”
  • Finally, leading anti-immigration organization FAIR has unveiled a fact sheet about “true” immigration reform, which, in their eyes, involves the Draconian and discredited “self-deportation” policy that drove Mitt Romney to defeat in 2012.  As the fact sheet notes, “Enforcement does not require mass deportation.  If we remove the incentives to remain here, many illegal aliens will go home on their own.”

“The contrast could not be clearer.  Momentum and energy are defining the pro-reform movement while the Kings of extremism are defining the anti-reform forces.  The Republican Party either helps pass immigration reform this year, or shows that it isn’t playing with a full deck these days,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.