Senate Celebrates Immigration Bill, as House Speaker Caters to Far Right Forces

June 27, 2013

by Jeremy Leaming

While the Senate’s passage of a comprehensive immigration bill may or may not be historic, it’s certainly remarkable. In an era of hyper-partisanship, it is far easier for the Senate to block action -- unless it’s approval of secret surveillance measures -- than it is to pass meaningful legislation or save the nation from outrageous cuts to social safety net and educational programs.

But for today 14 Republican senators joined 54 Democrats to pass the expansive measure that provides a 13-year long path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people in the country, provided stringent enforcement mechanisms are in place. The New York Times provides some highlights of the Senate measure that was approved 68 – 32 late this afternoon. Tens of millions are allotted for enforcement measures, such as 20,000 more Border Patrol agents and “700 miles of fencing along the southern border.” Only after the enforcement measures are in place will undocumented immigrants be allowed to start on the lengthy path to citizenship.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) lauded the immigration bill, saying it honors “our American values.” He said the immigration measure would help “address a complex problem that is hurting our families, stifling our economy and threatening our security.”

The National Council of La Raza also praised the Senate measure and called today’s vote a “milestone.” But the group’s President and CEO Janet Murguia also noted that like many compromise measures this one “included painful concessions and certainly puts our enforcement-heavy immigration policy into overdrive. But it finally acknowledges that restoring the rule of law requires a legal immigration system that takes the legitimate traffic out of the black market, allows immigrants to arrive with visas rather than with smugglers and enables immigrants who are working and raising families in the U.S. to come forward, go through criminal background checks, get in the system and get on the books.”

But the bill is nowhere near President Obama’s desk. The House of Representatives controlled by a Republican Party devoted largely to gridlock is unlikely to prove helpful. Reporting for TPM, Brian Beutler noted that House Speaker John Boehner said the House has no interest in passing a comprehensive measure, let alone the one the Senate just approved. “The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” Boehner said. “We’re going to do our own bill through regular order, and there’ll be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people. For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members.”

A group of Democratic leaders in the House quickly blasted the speaker’s strategy on immigration reform. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), said, “The House GOP’s strategy for immigration reform has been to slow-walk and cherry-pick.” The House is currently considering piecemeal legislation; much of it hardly could be described as immigration reform, though it is likely pleasing to the large swaths of the Republican constituency that is all about closing borders. One measure being considered in the House, Chu noted, would deny “siblings the right to bring their brothers and sisters to this country,” which she said in no way would improve the stringent immigration laws now in effect. “It will kick countless aspiring Americans out of line who have waited for as long as 24 years for their turn to immigrate here legally.”

The Republican Party, however, has drifted increasingly rightward and become more insular, with a constituency that loathes any kind of social safety net, and is not keen on an open society. There is also among this group elements that harbor blatant bigotry. Longtime right-wing warhorse Phyllis Schlafly, as Salon reports, is telling “anyone who will listen” that the Republican Party should not concern itself with Latino voters. Not only don’t Latino voters have “any Republican inclinations,” they don’t understand much. “They come from a country where they have no experience with limited government. And the types of rights we have in the Bill of Rights, they don’t understand that at all, you can’t even talk to them about what the Republican principle is.”

It appears unfortunately, at the moment, Speaker Boehner is playing to the basest of his far-right Party, which is why at the end of the day immigration reform may indeed be doomed.