No ‘Hispanic Heritage Month’ without ‘immigration summer’
House Republicans emerged from their first immigration meeting in seven years this Wednesday to reiterate their refusal to allow the bipartisan Senate reform plan to even come up for a vote. The House GOP’s “piecemeal” approach ensures that no reform at all will happen until Congress returns to Washington in September — right about the time of the Republicans’ annual “Hispanic Heritage Month” PR ritual.
In past years, you could almost hear mariachi music in the background as candidates including Mitt Romney read lines like “the Republican Party is the rightful home of Hispanic Americans.” When Romney delivered that particular line to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles last year, it drew stone cold silence.
In 2009, then-Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele went so far as to put out both a video message and a news release that was translated into Spanish. The party’s exuberant brownnosing didn’t extend to hiring a capable translator, though — within hours, the blogosphere erupted with stories counting at least nine major translation errors.
This year, unless House Republicans get serious about immigration reform, they can save themselves the trouble.
The Senate’s immigration measure, approved by a lopsided 68-32 margin, should, by any reasonable standard, satisfy even the most die-hard opponent of immigration reform.
Border security is enhanced (almost to the point of overkill) and the path to legal status is complex and arduous, with fines, tax assessments and background checks. Opponents’ concerns have been amply addressed, and what’s left from opponents is a frustrated nativist wail.
Texas Republican Lamar Smith is typical of the House GOP naysayers. After the Senate’s overwhelming vote in support of the measure, Smith took to his Blackberry with Tweets using the hashtag “#NoAmnesty.”
With all due respect, Congressman, those seeking legal status under the bipartisan Senate bill face fines, fees, a background check and a minimum ten-year waiting period before even obtaining a Green Card. Those wanting to complete the process will have to wait at least 13 years. Amnesty? Hardly.
The Senate measure calls for an additional $46.3 billion in border-security measures that include the deployment of everything from Blackhawk helicopters to aerial surveillance drones and other military hardware.
An additional 20,000 trained, full-time, active-duty U.S. Border Patrol agents would be deployed along the southern border, effectively doubling their current number.
For good measure, no individual will be allowed permanent lawful residence in the United States until what’s called the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy is deployed and operational. At least 700 miles of additional fencing will have to be constructed and all employers in the United States must implement an electronic employment eligibility verification system.
Some House Republicans are determined to stop any immigration reform measure from being considered, fearing the compromise that could come out of the House-Senate reconciliation.
At the same time, it is becoming clearer that while not a majority, there are enough moderates in the GOP Conference to ensure passage of the Senate proposal — if only it were allowed to come to the floor for an up-or-down vote.
In other words, a bipartisan House majority is being stifled by Republican immigration opponents on a point of party procedure known as the “Hastert Rule,” which allows floor votes only on measures supported by a majority of the Republican Conference. The “Hastert Rule” has been breached three times in the last year alone, allowing bipartisan majorities to pass Hurricane Sandy relief and the Violence Against Women Act. Certainly, an immigration system Speaker Boehner has repeatedly called “broken” is at least as important as those.
If House Republicans persist in their stubborn refusal to consider the Senate’s bipartisan reforms, the GOP can skip its “Hispanic Heritage Month” pablum and fire their Spanish language translators — permanently.
Unless they deliver an “immigration summer,” Republicans can forget about “Hispanic Heritage Month” in the fall.
Jacob Montilijo Monty is a nationally-recognized immigration attorney in Houston and a leading Republican activist.