By Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director, America’s Voice
This week, the United States Senate began hearings on the immigration reform bill crafted by the “Gang of Eight.” This marks the first time a Senate “gang” has actually produced viable legislation. While the bill is not perfect, it does provide a framework and, importantly, a path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans.
Let’s be clear about why we’re even having this Senate debate: It’s because of the 2012 elections and the historically low levels of support from Latino voters for GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Early in the campaign, Romney adopted a hard-line anti-immigrant position—and stuck with it. His top immigration adviser was Kris Kobach, one of the “masterminds” behind self-deportation and the author of Arizona’s SB 1070, which was self-deportation in action until it was found unconstitutional. Mitt Romney and the Republicans allowed Koback to be the lead drafter of the RNC’s Draconian-immigration policy platform in 2012. Mark Krikorian cried tears of joy—but the joy was short lived.
Since the election, some in the Republican Party have tried to burnish the party’s image with Latinos, including an overhaul of its recent anti-immigrant stance.
But, not everyone got the memo. At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday, Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and his anti-immigrant partner Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), provided a platform for Kobach and Mark Krikorian. Not only was Kobach the man most responsible for Romney’s infamous embrace of self-deportation in 2012, he is the former General Counsel of the anti-immigrant group FAIR (one of the Tanton anti-immigrant network which has been designated a hate group by SPLC).
Kobach and the immigration reform
Kobach is also the one who filed a lawsuit seeking to block the implementation of the DREAMer deferred action program and block hundreds of thousands of young aspiring citizens from getting a work permit and continuing to achieve their goals. Not content with having Kobach as a witness, these two members of the “Gang of Hate”—Sen. Grassley and Sen. Sessions—also brought in Krikorian, who is the head of the anti-immigrant “think tank” Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), another of the Tanton network and is the original “brains” behind the GOP’s embrace of self-deportation.
Amazingly, despite the election results, both Kobach and Krikorian continue to push the discredited and politically toxic concept of “self-deportation.” Kobach claimed, “self-deportation is not some radical idea.” while admitting he wants DREAMers to self-deport.
Yes, those were the Republican witnesses—Senators Grassley and Sessions are acting like nothing happened on Election Day to change the dynamics of this issue or the “experts” they should be listening to. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, challenged Kobach on self-deportation. He pointed out, ”the voters have the last word. The voters had the last word on self-deportation on November 6, so we’re beyond that now.” That message should have been heard by Sessions and Grassley as well as Kobach by now. But, we’re not sure they’re ever going to accept the new politics of immigration reform.
Another candidate for the “Gang of Hate” is Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who took a strong stand against citizenship, “I don’t think that there is any issue in this entire debate that is more divisive than a path to citizenship for those who are here illegally…In my view, any bill that insists upon that jeopardizes the likelihood of passing any immigration reform bill.” Well, in our view, that’s not just absurd, it’s wrong.
An array of polls demonstrates citizenship’s popularity, including a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that nearly two-thirds of the public backs citizenship on its own. However, “when told that the pathway to citizenship would require paying fines and back taxes, as well as passing a security-background check, support grows—with 76 percent of total respondents, and 73 percent of Republicans backing the path.” These findings are further highlighted by a new CNN/ORC International poll which finds 84 percent overall support for citizenship and 78 percent support amongst Republicans.
Our Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice pointed out the dichotomy, noting that “despite the thoughtful leadership demonstrated by Republican “Gang of Eight” members on immigration reform, some Republican Senators remain stuck in the past. After Krikorian and Kobach’s immigration advice cost Romney the election, it’s incredible that some members of the GOP are still cozying up to them. Were Pete Wilson, Tom Tancredo, and Joe Arpaio unavailable?”
That pretty much sums it up. We’ve got the “Gang of Eight” working on reform while the “Gang of Hate”, led by Sessions, Grassley and Cruz are trying to block reform.
During the “Gang of Eight” press conference last week, Senator John McCain proffered some “straight talk” to his Republican colleagues about why they need to help pass immigration reform, noting they can’t even begin to have a conversation with Hispanic voters until this issue is off the table.
Republicans face a stark choice: Follow the example of the “Gang of Eight” Republicans, work to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship and change your image with Latino voters—or follow the examples of Cruz, Sessions, and Grassley and walk right over that demographic cliff.