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Immigration Reform Summer: “At Least We Tried,” on Immigration Won’t Excuse House GOP With Voters

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Below is the ninth article in the series, “Immigration Reform Summer,” by Gebe Martinez, Advisor to America’s Voice Education Fund.  This article is available for reprint as long as the author is given proper attribution.

Halfway through the August congressional recess, House Republican leaders are being out-shined by newer members of their conference.

Rank-and-file members like Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock, and California Reps. David Valadao and Jeff Denham, have listened to their constituents, assessed both the politics and policy, and publicly endorsed immigration reform with an earned path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“We need a top to bottom approach. We need to address all aspects of immigration. You can’t just fix the border without having internal security, and without making sure that the 11 million that are here today are able to earn legal status and citizenship,” Denham said firmly at a recent church meeting with constituents where he was treated like a hero.

Denham’s words and those of other Republicans now considering citizenship provisions are in sharp contrast to the House GOP leadership team that is stuck in a state of partisan gridlock.

The leaders of the party’s legislative agenda seem dumfounded by — and increasingly resistant to —  the rare opportunity to score a bipartisan accomplishment on immigration reform, and instead are setting the stage for the possibility of immigration reform legislation failing.

These top Republicans are poised to poison the bill so that Democrats won’t bite and get blamed for killing the bill, even though their own rank-and-file, clergy, police chiefs, various business sectors and even Republican voters across the U.S. support reform with an earned path to citizenship.

“It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least show the American people that we are interested in solving this very serious problem that we have in our country,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, said at a town hall in his district this week.

Merely saying, “Gee, folks, at least we were interested in trying,” is going to be a tough sell to voters, especially on an issue in which the public is demanding a solution. Indeed, polls show Latino voters — a must-get electorate if the GOP is to win the White House — would blame Republican’s at reelection time if they block commonsense immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Alternatively, those same voters are open to taking a second look at Republicans, if they were to work toward the passage of reform.

The House leaders’ words beg the question: Are they setting up the country to fail or are they simply and tragically incapable of succeeding? Little wonder that Congress’s approval rating is at a historic low — a standing that Gallup attributes to its inability to deal with major issues.

The irony is that the path to citizenship has bipartisan support in the GOP-controlled House, but leaders have so far refused to bring it to a floor vote.

Earlier this summer, Valadao appeared at a forum with Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, in Valadao’s neighboring district represented by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. The Valadao and McCarthy districts are in California’s agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley, and growers are clamoring for immigration reform that would benefit the economy and immigrant families.

Yet McCarthy, along with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Goodlatte are stuck. They have yet to agree on the question of a path to citizenship — aspiring Americans would have to wait at least 10 years to apply for citizenship under the Senate bill — or whether it would be available to all who are currently undocumented or just some.

Limiting legal status and citizenship to certain groups would leave millions of people in a permanent underclass and undermine the economic benefits of commonsense immigration reform.

Though GOP leaders say they want to fix the immigration system “once and for all,” the legislative roadblocks they are erecting would instead create a permanently broken system.

See also: Washington Post by Greg Sargent