Sunday, February 10, 2013

¿Pueden los Republicanos Reformar?

For nearly a decade, comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) has been an elusive policy goal on Capitol Hill. Politicians on both sides have attempted to reach a solution. But whenever Congress seemingly came close to a solution, the radical right led an opposition campaign to kill it.

So far this year, we've been wondering if this time will be different. On one hand, there's a new push from (some elements of) the (center-)right to finally make CIR happen. The Republican establishment knows it's on the wrong side of America's demographic evolution, and it knows the business establishment wants CIR so it can better function in the globalized economy.

However, the radical right opposition is still there. And not only is it there, but it's become even more intense in the "tea party" era. As much as the Republican establishment here in Nevada and in DC would rather deny her existence, the spirit of Sharron Angle lives on. And she represents the heart of the current Republican Party.

It's the very heart that Mitt Romney constantly appealed to during his Presidential campaign last year.

And already, many House Republicans have begun lining up against the new Senate CIR proposal.

But House Republicans already have started expressing concerns about a key idea in the Senate framework that, once the border is deemed secure, would provide a pathway to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador, an Idaho Republican involved in House immigration-reform talks, told NPR last week that he doesn’t think his fellow House Republicans would support a citizenship path, although he would be in favor of legalizing their status.

“Statements from the House make it more difficult,” [Senator Jeff] Flake [R-Arizona, and a CIR "Gang of 8" member], a former six-term House member, told The Arizona Republic Thursday in an interview. “Staking out that kind of ground early on without really seeing what the legislation looks like.”

Flake said he is optimistic that the GOP-led House will embrace the bipartisan Senate approach, including a path to citizenship, once a bill is introduced and lawmakers can learn the specific steps undocumented immigrants would have to go through to get a green card. In broad terms, they will have to pass background checks, pay back taxes and fines, learn English and wait in line, according to the Senate outline.

“Once they see the legislation, once they see the length of time, the requirements and everything else, I think we can convince people that this is the way to go,” Flake said. “I hope they keep their powder dry until they see it.”

On Friday, Flake reiterated to The Republic’s editorial board that he views House Republicans as the biggest potential roadblock, saying immigration-reform advocates need “a significant number of Republicans to support it in the House.”

Even their fellow Republicans are becoming concerned that sustained G-O-TEA opposition may yet derail CIR... Again. Will this time be different?

Only if enough Republicans decide it's in their long-term best interest to actually reach a realistic solution to the nation's immigration problems. And CIR advocates have found another glimmer of hope here in Nevada. Apparently, Senator Dean Heller (R-Metamorphosis) may not be the only Nevada Republican to change his tune on immigration. The man who succeeded him in the House seat he used to fill may be following suit.

“I’ve always been for improvements in border security,” [Rep. Mark] Amodei [R-Carson City] said. “And I am not convinced that guest workers are a bad thing. We should have a pathway for people who to come and work. You can’t assume that everyone who comes wants to be a citizen.”

But unlike many members of his party, Amodei is amenable to the idea of a pathway to citizenship — and says an entry program that doesn’t respect the principle of family reunification is a nonstarter.

“I’m willing to look at that — if all you’ve done is broken the immigration law, to be able to earn your way to a state where you can apply for citizenship,” Amodei said. “To come out and say, ‘First and foremost, we’re going to break up your family’? That’s probably not a great first move.”

Being from rural Northern Nevada, Amodei might not seem like the most natural candidate among Nevada lawmakers to take a lead role on issues concerning immigrants, who are clustered more closely in urban Southern Nevada.

But Amodei points out that Hispanics make up 25 percent of his district.

“It’s 1 in 4. No matter how you do the math, that’s a major piece of your constituency, that’s a major interest,” he said. “I think I have as much interest in this as anybody.”

So Amodei is now in play. That just leaves Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) as the one remaining Nevada Member of Congress who hasn't (yet) revealed his hand on immigration. And it reveals how at least some Nevada Republicans want to diffuse immigration as the "wedge issue" that continues to hurt their standing among minority communities, especially Latin@s and Asian-Americans.

But again, how do they overcome the continuing "TEA" fueled opposition to CIR from their own party? How do they move past Sharron Angle, Mitt Romney, Kris Kobach, and Joe Arpaio? Can the G-O-TEA bloc finally be defeated on this issue?

The key to unlock CIR may ultimately be found in last month's "Fiscal Cliff" deal. As long as Amodei and 20+ more House Republicans are willing to make the jump, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) may just have to let them join the vast majority of House Democrats in passing CIR. "The Hastert Rule" will be broken again, but so will the logjam that's constantly killed reform in the 11th hour before.

So can it happen? Will it finally happen? How serious are Republicans in coming to the table to let it happen? Are they willing to actually work with Democrats to enact the broad consensus the American people have already said that they want to happen?

First, Congressional Republicans must finally put aside their xenophobic ghosts from campaigns past and look to the future.

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