Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) represents a district that is 18% Hispanic, that has been listed as one of the top districts in the country where the Latino vote will have the greatest impact. Last November, a poll found that 78% of all voters there support immigration reform with a path to citizenship. And yet — to the frustration of his constituents — he continues to be far from outspoken on the issue.
A Tampa Bay Times article today captures Ross’ equivocation on immigration reform, in comments expressing how much he wants to take it slow:
“We should all acknowledge that we have a broken system and then we should start taking it one step at a time,” [Ross told a constituent who supports reform.] “A comprehensive approach that we saw does not work in the past is not going to work again”…
“If we would at least address it, even in a piecemeal fashion, we would gain some credibility,” he said. “It’s a broken system. But how do we address it? We need to look at it as a triage and find out what’s the worst parts and what parts can we find consensus. Doing nothing is probably not a good tack for us.”
Ross’ unwillingness to say much more than that is drawing the ire of immigration reform supporters in his district, who are calling him “not a man of action” and warning that “you can continue to ignore our wishes, you can continue to ignore us. But pretty soon, you won’t have a choice.”
Ross should take a page from Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who — like him — was swept into the House during the 2010 Tea Party wave. Ellmers has a much lower proportion of Latino voters in her district (which is not even on the list of the top 45), and she has a primary challenger who is specifically attacking her for her support of immigration reform.
Yet she is one of the 30 House Republicans who supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship, she penned an op-ed this year expressing a real desire to solve our broken immigration system, and she’s making immigration reform a real priority for her this year.
In a forum with constituents this week, she was able to put forward the broad outline of a reform plan that would secure the borders and create a path to legal status. As the News Observer quoted her saying, “It is not practical, it is not common sense, to assume that 11 or 12 … million people are simply going to pick up and leave our country. It is not possible because they have built their lives here, they have built their families here.”
There’s much more that Ellmers could do for immigration reform — her constituents are pushing her to do more to support citizenship, and she’s not a co-sponsor HR 15, the bipartisan immigration bill that’s been introduced in the House. But Ellmers is showing that her heart is in the right place, purple state and primary challenger and all. So what’s Dennis Ross’ excuse?