Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Does Senator Heller Also Hold Fate of CIR in His Hands?

Yesterday, we saw an amazing display of cowardice. Despite having the support of 86% of Nevadans, a similar amount of Americans overall, and a whole lot of victims of gun violence, Senator Dean Heller (R-46%) decided to not only oppose legislation to expand background checks on gun purchases, but he also chose to join a filibuster of any and all gun safety measures. So thanks to Heller's fear of a few NRA & "tea party" radicals, we may not even see a vote on the actual legislation this week.

So now, eyes here and in DC are turning to another major issue that's been getting traction in Congress lately. Yesterday, the actual Gang of 8 comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill finally dropped. And yet again, Democratic & Republican Senators are now wondering aloud what Senator Heller will do, especially now that there's an actual bill for him to take a position on.

So what's Senator Heller doing? Why of course, he's still refusing to take any position!

“There is no question our immigration system is broken and needs reform. I’m encouraged that Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans have continued to work together in a good faith effort to create an immigration process for those wishing to live in this great nation. For far too long, many in Washington have focused on the twenty percent where Democrats and Republicans disagree. I remain optimistic that we are continuing to make progress towards legislation comprised of the 80 percent where both sides of the aisle can come to an agreement.

“As Congress prepares to tackle the difficult challenge of modernizing the current system, every member of Congress must be honest about the need for enforcement measures in any legislation considered on the Senate floor. With Democrats and Republicans coming together and engaging in an open, transparent debate on this issue and allowing for amendments to the existing legislation, I am optimistic we can find solutions and address these issues once and for all. I look forward to reviewing this legislation and continuing this discussion in the coming days and weeks,” said Senator Dean Heller.

Less than 3 months ago, Senator Dean Heller's rhetoric on CIR sounded so promising. However, so was his rhetoric on gun safety. Now, everyone is waiting with baited breath to see some real action from him.

So what's happening? Long story short: The "TEA" tinged (Republican Party) base are howling back in rage over Heller and a few other Republicans playing footsie on issues like gun safety and immigration reform. And yes, we're seeing a mounting "tea party" campaign to kill CIR (again). Yesterday, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) disgustingly tried to (mis)use the Boston Marathon Bombing as an excuse to oppose CIR. And today, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) is reinforcing King's irrational and xenophobic case against CIR.

"We know Al Qaeda has camps over with the drug cartels on the other side of the Mexican border," he said Wednesday on C-Span. "We know that people that are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic [sic] when they are radical Islamists. We know these things are happening. It is just insane not to protect ourselves, to make sure that people come in as most people do ... They want the freedoms we have."

He compared the United States to Israel, and said that the nation might need a border fence in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. "Finally the Israeli people said, 'You know what? Enough.' They built a fence, and the rest is a wall to prevent snipers from knocking off their kids. They finally stopped the domestic violence from people that wanted to destroy them. I am concerned we might need to do that as well," he said, adding he didn't know whether the attack in Boston was domestic or foreign in origin.

Gohmert has previously asserted that pregnant women were coming to the U.S. to have babies to take advantage of birthright citizenship, where their infants would grow up to be terrorists.

Gohmert's colleague Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Tuesday that immigration reform might need to be delayed because the suspect in the bombings could have been a foreign on a student visa. In fact, there is thus far no suspect for Monday's bombings.

The Hispanic Leadership Group, a conservative pro-reform immigration group, condemned Gohmert's remark as "unacceptable, offensive and ignorant."

"Using a national tragedy to further his own anti-immigration reform agenda is not only shameful, but also a blatant attempt to disingenuously twist public sentiment at a vulnerable time," said the group in a statement. "We must take a strong stand and make it clear this kind of intolerance has no place in the conservative movement."

At least some conservatives are stepping forward to condemn the insane rhetoric coming from "tea party" darlings like Gohmert and King. However, that insane rheotric may nonetheless be working in making Republicans like Senator Heller think twice about joining their Gang of 8 colleagues in crossing the aisle to support CIR.

And in case that's not bad enough, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) added even more xenophobic fuel to the "tea party" anti-immigrant fire earlier this week.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Sessions warned that the nation’s undocumented immigrants would “be able to immediately apply for much better jobs than they currently have.” “Maybe they were working at a restaurant part time. Now they’re going to be truck drivers, heavy-equipment operators competing at the factories and plants and we’ve got an unemployment rate that’s very high,” he said.

Millions of Americans are still looking for work, but there is little economic evidence to support Sessions’ concerns. Research shows that immigrants and native-born workers have different levels education, occupation, and skill sets, compete in different job markets and are actually more “likely to compete against offshoring than against each other.” Economists argue that legalization leads to better jobs and higher earning power,significantly increasing tax revenue,boosting consumer spending, and supporting 750,000 to 900,000 additional jobs. Studies conducted in the aftermath of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act also concluded that legal status raises the “wage floor” for the economy and increases take-home pay for immigrants and native workers alike.

Sessions’ worries don’t end there, however. The Alabama senator also claimed that the border-security requirement in the proposed bill are “in some ways appears weaker than the one in 2007″ —even though border security has improved significantly since the last time Congress tackled immigration reform. The federal government spent $18 billion —more than on every other federal law enforcement agencies combine —to secure the border during the 2012 fiscal year and has now exceeded the goals and targets set out in the failed 2007 immigration legislation. For instance, there are now more border agents deployed at the Southern border and increased consequences for illegal crossings.

The proposal offered by Gang of 8 will only build on these achievements. Undocumented immigrants are prohibited from obtaining provisional status until the Secretary of Homeland Security submits a comprehensive border security plan and immigrants will not achieve permanent legal status before the Secretary implements a mandatory employment verification system, deploys an electronic exit system, and officials put in place strategies to enhance security on the southern border. The bill establishes persistent surveillance in high risk sectors of the border —areas where apprehensions are above 30,000 individuals per year —and would ensure that 90 percent of entries at certain high-risk southwestern border areas are apprehended or deterred. The Department of Homeland Security will also have significant additional resources for priorities like border security, more funding for customs agents, border crossings prosecutions, and additional patrol stations.

Roll Call hinted at this last night in its report on potential trouble ahead for the Gang of 8 CIR bill. And even if it still manages to survive the Senate, House Republicans are threatening to break it up so they can cherry-pick the parts they like (and perhaps kill the parts they don't).

So there may indeed be a rocky road ahead for immigration reform, despite growing public support for CIR, including the path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that's the heart of the Gang of 8 Bill. So again, we're all asking what Senator Heller will do. His decision in the coming days will be a factor in determining just how rocky and treacherous of a road that this new CIR proposal faces.

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