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Martinez Farewell Speech: "Proud of Progress" on Immigration Reform

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Incoming Sen. LeMieux Embraces Opposite Course, Favors Failed Policies of Past

Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL), a longtime Republican leader on immigration issues, used his farewell address on the Senate floor today to lament Washington’s failure to fix the immigration system, an issue he championed during his time in Congress.  Unfortunately, the newly-inducted replacement for Senator Martinez, George LeMieux, outlined an immigration stance at odds with the Martinez approach, Republicans’ long term political interests, and the need for a lasting solution.

“When it comes to immigration policy and Latino voter outreach, some Republicans still don’t get it,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.  “Senator Martinez was right to point Republicans toward a new direction on immigration issues.  Unfortunately, it appears that George LeMieux is content to backtrack on the Martinez legacy and ignore the lessons of recent elections.”

In his farewell speech to the U.S. Senate, Sen. Martinez talked about the need to put differences aside to solve tough problems, and spoke about his experiences working with the late Senator Ted Kennedy in a bipartisan manner. “Senator Ted Kennedy has played an integral part in this institution and I’m saddened by his death. It was an honor to work with him, closely with him on immigration. While we often disagreed, he was a man of his word and always ready to get something done. I always admired his ability to put differences aside and find consensus on some of the most important issues facing our nation. His work on immigration was no exception.”

In stark contrast to the efforts of Martinez and Kennedy to pass real, comprehensive immigration reform, the new Republican Senator from Florida, George LeMieux, today outlined support for an enforcement-first approach: “We need to secure our borders…After we do that, we can figure what happens to people already here.”

“Enforcement first policies such as those espoused by Senator LeMieux would make a bad situation worse for immigrants, workers, employers and all Americans,” said Sharry.  “This is not a solution to our broken immigration system; it just represents a continuation of the failed policies of the past two decades. We hope that Senator LeMieux is ready to tackle tough problems, and recognizes that upholding the Martinez legacy on immigration isn’t just a tribute to a retired leader – it’s both good policy and good politics.”

Since Republicans experienced historic losses with Latino voters in 2008, many have called on the Party to stop intolerant and anti-immigrant rhetoric and to start embracing comprehensive immigration reform, or risk becoming a regional party for years to come. On Meet the Press just after the 2008 elections, Sen. Martinez attributed the GOP’s electoral woes in part to their immigration stance, as he blasted many of his colleagues: “The very divisive rhetoric of the immigration debate set a very bad tone for our brand as Republicans…there were voices within our party, frankly, which if they continue with that kind of rhetoric, anti-Hispanic rhetoric, that so much of it was heard, we’re going to be relegated to minority status.”

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.