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Republicans Have Been On a Race To The Bottom On Immigration Since Passage of Senate Bill Ten Years Ago

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Trump Came Down The Golden Escalator to Call Mexicans ‘Rapists’ And The GOP Just Keeps Going Down and Down

This week marks ten years since the Senate’s historic passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would’ve put millions of undocumented immigrants on a pathway to legal status and eventual citizenship. S. 744 passed by an overwhelming 68 to 32 vote, including support from 14 Republicans. Four Republicans also made up half of the “Gang of Eight” group that wrote the legislation. 

There was enough support in the House to pass it there too, most people agreed, but one person stood in the way of progress: John Boehner. The then-Speaker refused to let it go to the floor for a vote. We were confident then, and remain confident now, that a pathway to citizenship could’ve passed. 

But in the decade since, Republicans have been on such a rapid descent on immigration that former Iowa Rep. Steve King would no longer be considered the most extreme member of the House today. King, you might recall, infamously said that Dreamers have “calves the size of cantaloupes,” once appeared to refer to Mexicans as “dirt,” celebrated the deportation of a Dreamer with a beer, and questioned just what was so darn offensive about the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacist.” 

House Republicans finally rebuked him after that last one, and King was removed from his committee assignments. But in today’s Republican Party, extremism has a home in House leadership. Elise Stefanik, chair of the House Republican Conference, released Facebook ads citing the same white nationalist replacement theory spewed by the racist Buffalo gunman last year. 

But it’s not just the rhetoric. The bills and policies have also become more extreme and out-of-touch from the majority of public sentiment. When House Republicans finally did allow an immigration-related vote, in 2014, it was on a King amendment that would’ve defunded the popular and successful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and subjected Dreamers to deportation. 

The proposal fortunately didn’t have any chance of becoming law because Republicans only partially controlled Congress at that time. Republicans instead changed course, and sought to kill DACA through the courts. The anti-immigrant judicial pipeline has proven horrifically efficient. Because of a lawsuit launched by impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, no new applicants may enroll in the DACA program. An imminent decision in the ongoing case could lead to its total shutdown.

House Republicans have also launched a war on our nation’s asylum system. In a one-two extremism punch, one GOP member invoked white nationalist great replacement theory to start debate on a grab bag of cruel and unworkable policies that would make Stephen Miller giddy. Republicans called it “H.R. 2,” but a more apt name for it was the “Child Detention Act” because it increases the detention of vulnerable individuals, and would have even created a show-me-your-papers scenario during natural disasters.

Over in the Senate, the two remaining Republican members from the “Gang of Eight” group have been on their own rapid descent after passing S. 744. 

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, for instance, really wanted us to believe he was going to be a champion. In an apparent effort to show his commitment to passing a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented communities, he once publicly revealed a voicemail left by his mom, where she begged him to do right by immigrants.

“‘Tony, some loving advice from the person who cares for you most in the world,’ she said in Spanish,” TIME reported in 2013. “‘Don’t mess with the immigrants, my son. Please, don’t mess with them.’ She reminded him that undocumented Americans—los pobrecitos, she called them, the poor things—work hard and get treated horribly. ‘They’re human beings just like us, and they came for the same reasons we came. To work. To improve their lives. So please, don’t mess with them.’”

That same year, other immigrant moms confronted Rubio in Washington, D.C., concerned over fears that he was disowning his own proposal. “I am the author of this bill, this proposal,” a flustered Rubio told the mothers, adding that he didn’t understand why he was being asked to commit to his own legislation. But the moms’ fears were absolutely right. By 2016, Rubio had voted for a mass deportation president, falling in line, like most Republicans, behind Donald Trump. He’s also come dangerously close to echoing replacement theory, claiming in 2021 that “Democrats are attempting to remake our nation wholesale.”

Meanwhile, the other Republican “Gang of Eight” member, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, reintroduced the DREAM Act in 2021, only to pull a Marco Rubio and disown it a couple weeks later.

When finally taking action to remove King from his committees after he expressed his pro-white nationalist sentiments in 2019, then-Republican Leader McCarthy called his language “reckless, wrong and has no place in our society. Everything about white supremacy and white nationalism goes against who we are as a nation.” 

But Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who spoke at a white nationalist-organized conference last year, isn’t just welcome, she’s in charge. While she isn’t in leadership, she controls the agenda anyway, making it clear that McCarthy and his slim majority are beholden to her. In fact, she gives herself credit for his speakership. “I got the votes for McCarthy to become speaker,” she boldly proclaimed to The Independent this month.

In ten short years we have gone from bipartisanship, compromise, legislation and progress on immigration to explicit calls for nationalism, violence and a race to the bottom to see which Republican can be the most anti-immigrant.