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As a group of eight senators, four Republicans and four Democrats, work together to make progress on immigration reform, there’s one senator not in the group to keep an eye on. His name is John Cornyn.
In fact, Cornyn is famous for posing as reformer even as he works to derail reform.
From 2005 through 2007, the group I headed worked closely with Senators McCain and Kennedy to pass bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform. In 2005 and 2006 Senator Cornyn teamed up with Senator Kyl of Arizona to propose an alternative bill. He made eloquent speeches about the need for reform. He issued positive press releases on his hopes for reform. He held meetings with advocates for reform. We believed — and hoped — he was positioning himself to be the deal maker on a bill that would fix our immigration system once and for all.
Unfortunately, Cornyn turned out to be typical politician. All hat and no cattle. As the immigration bill moved to the Senate floor in 2006, he proposed poison pill amendments to weaken support for it. He voted against it, even though 23 other Republicans voted for it. It turned out all that posturing was aimed at undermining, not enacting, reform.
In 2007, Senator Cornyn’s hardline friend, Jon Kyl, decided to fight for reform rather than against it. Kyl engaged in bipartisan negotiations. The bill that emerged was similar to the earlier Cornyn-Kyl bill. President Bush and Senator Kyl fought for it. Senator Cornyn proposed poison pill amendments to weaken support for the bill. He then voted against it.
It was June 28, 2007. The bill negotiated by Kyl to win over Republicans such as Senator Cornyn had just gone down to defeat. And then, none other than Senator Cornyn stood up to give a speech on the Senate floor — about the need to pass immigration reform!
He said, “This is a big issue, one that is worthy of the greatest deliberative body in the world — the U.S. Senate — and it is an issue on which I assure each of my colleagues that I intend to do my part to try to solve.” But we all knew reform would be derailed for years after this defeat, and when Cornyn had his chance to resolve it just moments earlier, he voted no.
Cornyn did the same thing again in 2010. The DREAM Act passed the House and won 55 votes in the Senate in December 2010. But Cornyn was one of the Republicans who opposed it, keeping the bill from the 60 votes needed to end a Republican filibuster and dashing the DREAMs of millions of young people. One month later, at the Hispanic Leadership Network conference, he had the audacity to portray himself as a dedicated supporter of immigration reform.
But what about this year? Isn’t this the year that conservative Republicans are working hard to enact immigration reform that combines border security, employment verification, new family and employment immigration lines, and a way for those here illegally to earn citizenship? Yes it is. Senators such as Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are using their political capital to fight for common sense reform.
And John Cornyn? Up to his old tricks. Despite the bipartisan effort to craft an immigration reform bill, Cornyn is grandstanding with a new, so-called “border security” bill despite the numerous reports showing that the border is more secure than it’s ever been. Another enforcement-only measure that does nothing to actually fix our broken immigration system clearly signals that Cornyn’s ready to derail progress once again.
But, just a couple weeks, ago, while accepting the “Small Business Advocate of the Year” award from the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in March, Cornyn talked about the need to fix our broken immigration system. That same afternoon, Cornyn sent a letter to Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, asking him to slow down the bipartisan process for immigration reform so that he could “study” it more. Cornyn joined anti-immigrant hardliners Jeff Sessions and Chuck Grassley on the letter, as well as Texas’ own Ted Cruz.
Study the issue? Yeah, right. I predict that Cornyn will once again pretend to be for reform as he works with opponents to derail it.
So here’s the thing, Senator: you can try to hold immigration reform hostage until you are blue in the face — or until Texas turns blue. But you can’t have it both ways. It’s your actions that matter, not your words. You either vote for reform or you don’t. And millions of voters who want reform are watching.