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Was Last Week a Turning Point That Will Speed Passage of Immigration Reform?

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Though it can be difficult to recognize pivotal moments during the middle of a debate, last week featured several major developments that significantly strengthened the prospects of immigration reform.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:

When immigration reform legislation is signed into law and we look back on key moments, we may well conclude that last week was a major turning point that helped speed passage of immigration reform.

Among key developments last week:

  • Heritage Report was a game-changer for immigration reform: It would be hard to botch a rollout more than the Heritage Foundation did with its report release on the economic impact of immigration reform.  While the report was supposed to be “their big play in the immigration debate,” according to a story in Politico, the pushback and blow up that followed marked a major turning point in the reform debate.  First, fellow conservatives attacked the report’s methodology and conclusions, with everyone from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to Americans for Tax Reform Founder Grover Norquist to former Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour to conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin speaking out against the “research” and findings.  Then, revelations broke that the report’s co-author, Jason Richwine, wrote in a 2009 dissertation that Latinos have low IQs and this should be factored into immigration policy – news that led to his eventual resignation.  In the words of John Feehery, a top aide to former Speaker of the House Denis Hastert (R-IL), “The meltdown at the Heritage Foundation has made it easier for main-stream conservatives to vote for the bill in the upper chamber.”  New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait predicted in a piece titled, “How Jason Richwine Passed Immigration Reform,” that the “fallout from the Heritage Foundation’s immigration reform study has developed into a watershed moment for the prospects of passing a bill” and noted that the episode, “has demonstrated that the balance of power within the party has shifted.”
  • As legislative markup begins, the bipartisan center holds & opponents get called out:  In the face of a battery of amendments to the Senate immigration bill, backers from both parties remained strong and united during the first day of markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  They stuck together to keep the core elements of the bill intact.  A Politico headline, “Gang of Eight throws GOP a bone,” aptly recapped the nature of the amendments accepted by proponents.  Further, outside observers are increasingly calling out the transparent attempts of reform opponents to derail the bill’s momentum. For example, the Houston Chronicle editorialized against the roles Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have been playing as leading reform opponents, writing, “Many of these amendment IEDs are being offered by such ardent opponents of the legislation as the Lone Star State’s Senate duo, tea-party true-believer Ted Cruz and his senior colleague John Cornyn, a tea-party target in 2014 if he doesn’t toe the line.  Despite protestations to the contrary, Cruz, Cornyn and other hard-liners would be happy to hobble immigration reform. That’s why they have latched on to the border-security issue as a way to kill it.”
  • The rogue’s gallery opposing reform may help drive a speedier legislative process:  In addition to Heritage and their embattled president Jim DeMint, other leading opponents of reform similarly are a “who’s who” of those that the Republican Party is trying to distance itself from in pursuit of a new brand image to Latino voters, from Rush Limbaugh to Jeff Sessions to Pat Buchanan to and Arizona’s SB1070 ‘papers, please’ sponsor, Russell Pearce.  Needless to say, the pro-reform Republicans and party strategists with an eye to the GOP’s national competitiveness are undoubtedly wary about these opponents’ abilities to define the Party to Latino voters.  The longer the legislative process goes on, the greater the opportunities for future Jason Richwines to hamper the Republicans’ renewed Latino outreach plans.