Below is the fifth 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. View other posts in the series here.
As Texas DREAMer Miguel Porfirio prepared to meet this hometown congressman, Republican Blake Farenthold, at a Corpus Christi meet-and-greet, he knew what he would say to him about the importance of letting undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. earn citizenship.
“I love this country; this is my home. Even if people don’t want me to be here, this is all I know,” said the 20-year-old college student who was brought to the U.S. as a toddler and is undocumented. “I would very much like him to see us as human beings. We share the same sky; we share the same ground.”
This week, Porfirio saw firsthand the pressure Farenthold is getting from the anti-immigration hardliners in the district. As Porfirio and about 50 other immigration advocates arrived at the congressman’s local office to deliver 10,000 signatures on petitions calling for a path to citizenship, they were confronted by opponents organized by Farenthold’s political committee.
“In politics, choosing sides, sometimes that’s kind of dangerous,” Porfirio said after the petition delivery. “If I could transmit to him to be a little bit more understanding and compassionate, he could maybe lean more towards our side.”
Farenthold is in a bind.
Occupying a House seat that he won by only 799 votes in the 2012 election, and representing a district that is 50 percent Latino, Farenthold has a decision to make.
Will he stick with the GOP’s politics of the past that relied on the social conservative (and often anti-immigrant) base to turn out voters, or work with the swelling Latino electorate in his district and across Texas? Porfirio cannot vote, but he has relatives, friends and coworkers who do.
They want Farenthold to make the right policy decision and stand on the side of immigration reform that will help the economy — nationally and in his state where trade with Mexico is key — and update the long-broken immigration system.
“I’m probably more flexible on immigration because of the district I represent being kind of right on the forefront of the debate,” Farenthold told his hometown newspaper recently.
Whatever he says, he better mean what he says, because voters are keeping score.
Note what is happening in Florida, where Republican Rep. Daniel Webster has a convoluted position.
Under pressure from immigration reform advocates, Webster broke his silence on his immigration leanings and stated his qualified support for citizenship in an interview with Orlando Sentinel. But Webster added conditions, including a requirement that local police also handle immigration law enforcement, a proposal opposed by police chiefs because it would damage community policing efforts.
The two-sided approach is not practical or politically feasible.
In Illinois, Republican Aaron Schock was more definite in his support more immigration reform favored by advocates.
At a town hall meeting in his central state district, Schock was videotaped expressing support for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, agreeing to the contours of the legalization plan approved earlier this summer by the Senate.
“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 supporting a commonsense policy approach, Schock also made a sensible political recommendation.
“I think we ought to walk everybody away from the cliffs, make them put down their weapons and realize we are a nation of immigrants,” Schock said.
“Every wave throughout our country’s history has been a wave of immigrants who have come here and done work that second, third, fourth, fifth generations of Americans haven’t wanted to do, and it’s been a reason why our country is as successful as it is,” Schock told his Heyworth, Ill, constituents.
Afterwards, Karen Mondoza, a young undocumented leader of Illinois People’s Action who has been working on immigration reform, thanked Schock for his support. “We hope that this will inspire other representatives in the House to do the same.”
Farenthold may want to take notice.