This month marks ten years since the introduction of the “Gang of Eight’s” comprehensive immigration reform bill. In June of 2013, the U.S. Senate passed that historic bill by a strong bipartisan majority, with 14 Republicans joining all Democrats. The bill, S. 744, would have put millions of undocumented immigrants onto a pathway to citizenship, allowing them to work legally, reunite with family members, more fully continue to our economy, and live without the fear of deportation. It would’ve been the biggest immigration overhaul in decades.
But while bipartisan votes existed in the Republican-led U.S. House to pass the legislation, then-Speaker John Boehner refused to allow the bill to come to the floor, instead giving numerous anti-DREAMer votes to Steve King, the racist former congressman from Iowa.
Boehner inaction and acquiescence to the anti-immigrant wing would mark the beginning of the GOP’s rapid descent into the kind of gloom, white supremacist radicalism, and nativism we see today.
Notably, Boehner’s refusal to bring up S. 744 marked the beginning of ten years (and counting) of most Congressional Republicans refusing to join in on workable proposals to address our nation’s outdated immigration system. While a number of Republicans did support two major pieces of legislation that passed the House after Democrats took control of the chamber in 2018, in the Senate, ten Republicans refused to step forward to overcome the Jim Crow filibuster.
Both the Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would have been hugely significant. While not as expansive as the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013, they would have permanently protected Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals holders, immigrants holding Temporary Protected Status, and the undocumented farmworkers who feed us.
Senate Republicans in fact refused to act on this legislation twice, when the House again passed these bills in 2021. Once again, ten Senate Republicans refused to step up.
They also refused to step up when former Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III gleefully announced the rescission of DACA in 2017. Rather than dressing down the Trump administration over its inhumane decision putting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants at risk of deportation, Mitch McConnell opined that former President Barack Obama “wrongly believed he had the authority to re-write our immigration law.”
McConnell and Republicans have had more than enough chances over the years to “re-write” the law themselves. Since S. 744, pro-immigrant bills addressing everything from families separated under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, to expanding domestic workers’ rights, to citizenship for essential workers have been introduced dozens of times in Congress with no support from Republicans.
Proposals have even been squashed before they’ve had a chance to become a bill. While never officially introduced as legislation, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema late last year held talks regarding a proposed plan addressing border security and permanent protections for DACA recipients. The talks came after the Senate Parliamentarian, an unelected staffer, refused to allow Democrats to pass immigration provisions through the budget reconciliation process.
But top Senate Republicans — including Texas Senator John “Cornyn Con” Cornyn — dusted off “border first” excuses to derail any further progress, continuing to leave anxious young immigrants and their families on edge as Republicans also attack their DACA protections in the judiciary. In the face of Congressional inaction, the Biden administration has also used its authority under law to implement a parole program that allows some Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan migrants to apply to enter the U.S. if they have a sponsor.
Not only does this open a safer channel for families to reunite, the number of unlawful crossings at the southern border has dropped, administration officials said.
But Republican states led by Texas are now seeking to block this program through the right-wing courts. Republicans constantly claim that they’re in favor of legal immigration, but their actions say otherwise.
Let’s not forget the GOP’s descent into xenophobia isn’t just about policy — like the new anti-immigration bill in the House Judiciary Committee that amounts to a turbocharged version of the Donald Trump and Stephen Miller agenda — it’s also the rhetoric. Going back to 2013, Boehner not only gave King numerous votes to subject DACA recipients to deportation, he began sounding a lot like him too, echoing his “amnesty” bombast.
But even that’s small potatoes compared to what Republicans say and do these days. While GOP House leaders under public pressure booted King from committee assignments after he questioned how “white nationalist” and “white supremacy” became “offensive,” current Speaker Kevin McCarthy restored committee assignments to two GOP lawmakers who make King look like Bambi.
House Democrats had led the effort removing Florida’s Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees for her past comments supporting the assassination of Democratic officials. Her fellow conspiracy theorist, Arizona’s Paul Gosar, was removed (and censured) for promoting a video depicting the assassination of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and a violent attack against President Biden. Both Gosar and Greene also spoke at a 2022 event organized by notorious white supremacist Nick Fuentes. McCarthy knows exactly who they are and what they believe, but he’s decided getting the speaker’s gavel is more important.
But let’s not pretend McCarthy is somewhere in the middle: his pledge last year that he would not take up a pathway to citizenship if he became speaker was made to racist rag Breitbart.