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Vacuum Left by Republican Inaction on Immigration Lets Extremists Define the GOP

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Politics abhors a vacuum and in the case of anti-immigrant extremists, they have willingly filled the gap left by the inaction of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH). And the more the Speaker and others in House leadership pile on excuses to delay a vote on immigration reform, the more the extremist wing of the Party defines the GOP—an intolerant definition that will damage the Republican Party in 2014 and prevent a national victory in 2016.

Case in point: the University of Texas (UT) at Austin.  Yesterday, the school was forced to intervene in when a conservative student group announced plans to host a “catch an illegal immigrant”  game on campus. As NPR reports:

“A conservative group of students has sparked a heated discussion on the campus of University of Texas at Austin, after it announced a game of ‘catch an illegal immigrant.’  The Young Conservatives of Texas say some of its members will walk around campus on Wednesday with an ‘illegal immigrant’ label on them. ‘Any UT student who catches one of these ‘illegal immigrants’ and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card,’ the group said on its Facebook page. ‘he purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives.’

“The school’s administrators reacted swiftly, saying the event was ‘completely out of line with the values’ of the university.” …

… “Lorenzo Garcia, who originally posted the game notice on Facebook, was recently employed by Republican Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign.”

The event was subsequently cancelled, but not before gaining national, negative attention largely focused on the GOP.

Also yesterday, former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) spoke in New York City and according to POLITICO, “blasted some of the rhetoric from congressional Republicans against immigration, such as Iowa Rep. Steve King as ‘shameful and so insulting … [it’s] totally out of the mainstream of conservative thought.’  But it’s those remarks, he said, that ‘gets attention.’”

Let us add a corrective to Governor Bush’s interpretation – we agree that the outlandish and extreme remarks of the Rep. Steve King (R-IA) wing of the GOP and the offensive game proposed by UT young Republicans are not representative of the mainstream of conservative thought.  As we noted yesterday, most Republicans and conservatives prefer the policy option of immigration reform with a path to citizenship versus other policy alternatives (including in a Quinnipiac poll released last week).

But for some reason, the Steve King wing continues to dictate what does or does not happen in the House of Representatives.  The fact remains that the only immigration policy that has received a vote on the House floor this Congress was a Steve King amendment to deport DREAMers and others. 

If Republicans want to present a new face to immigrant, Asian, and Latino voters it starts with new rhetoric but ends with new policies.

But so far Speaker Boehner and other House Republicans are intent to slow-walk and delay reform, trotting out weak excuse after weak excuse (see this new recap from Elise Foley at HuffPost aggregating the seven Republican excuses why they can’t move forward on immigration).

Given that the pro-reform movement is growing in strength while the anti-immigrant movement is increasingly exposed as a paper tiger, the question remains why Speaker Boehner keeps playing into the hands of the small and shrinking wing of the Party and electorate who are against immigration reform.

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

The longer House Republicans wait to pass immigration reform, the more Steve King fills the vacuum and the more pragmatic Republicans like Jeb Bush are left with the political damage.  Speaker Boehner may hold the fate of immigration reform in his hands for now, but he also holds the fate of the Republican Party and their long-term viability with growing swaths of Latino, Asian and immigrant voters in his hands for good.  When will he understand that?  Until we see House Leadership put forth a proposal and schedule a vote, Steve King and his ideological allies will continue to speak for the Republican Party on immigration.