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Senate Jobs Bill Latest Target for Illegal Immigration Wedge Politics
But GOP Movement Leaders Warn of Long-Term Political Fallout
WASHINGTON - February 23 - Recent developments indicate that the schism in the Republican Party over Latino outreach and immigration reform is beginning to widen. While some Republican lawmakers continue to use the immigration issue as a wedge to try to block progress on every major issue the Democratic Congress takes up-such as legislation designed to put Americans back to work-others within the GOP leadership are warning that such a strategy would doom the Party's chances in a growing number of congressional districts and states, as well as the 2012 Presidential election.
In the latest iteration of the Republican tug of war over immigration and outreach to Latino voters, a bloc of Republican Senators dusted off the ‘blame the immigrants' playbook and professed opposition to the Senate jobs bill over supposed fears that the bill's tax credits for employers would be used to employ undocumented immigrants. However, as The Hill reported, the language in the jobs bill is the same as language first introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in tax rebate legislation, and it is already against the law to hire unauthorized workers. The thinly-veiled excuse to oppose legislation based on the specter of illegal immigration is a tired strategy also used by some GOP lawmakers and allied anti-immigration organizations during previous debates over issues on such disparate topics as the stimulus bill, SCHIP, healthcare, the roots of the financial crisis, the flu pandemic, and even global warming.
As the Washington Post reported yesterday, numerous influential Republican strategists are raising their voices to call on Party leaders to change their tune to be more welcoming to Latino voters. Dan Bartlett, a former George W. Bush strategist, said "Hispanics are going to be a dominant political force in the state of Texas and around the country for the next 100 years, and the Republican Party's blowing it. There's a real dearth of smart thinking on the Republican side of the aisle." Not only is the Party alienating Latino voters in its zeal to appear tough on illegal immigration, but it is missing a golden opportunity to meet the American people where they are and embrace a practical solution supported by the vast majority of all voters.
The Party's schism was on full display at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference, which featured "diametrically opposed themes" on immigration according to CQ Politics. On one side, conservative activist Grover Norquist said, "you can't talk to someone from the immigrant community, threaten to deport their relative and then ask them to vote with you because you're pro-life...some conservatives and some Republicans have used harsh and insulting rhetoric that has chased away Hispanic voters unnecessarily," and former Reagan official Linda Chavez noted, "I want to see conservatives triumph in the United States...If you share that view, then we better begin to figure out a way to talk about immigration that does not alienate the fastest-growing demographic in the United States."
The other side featured such anti-immigration zealots as former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), who has published an anti-immigration book Whatever it Takes, in which he likened Republican support for tough anti-immigrant measures as a way "to stand up for our culture." At CPAC, in remarks at a screening of the film Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration, Hayworth said, "The problem in Washington is that so many people - including my opponent - view this as a political problem to be managed instead of seeing what really is going on...This is an invasion that must be stopped."
"No matter the policy issue, a contingent of Republicans remain convinced that raising the specter of illegal immigration is sufficient rationale for opposition and obstinacy," said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America's Voice. "Unfortunately for the GOP, like its campaign counterpart the immigration wedge issue, the ‘blame the immigrants' approach to legislation is a death knell for attempts to improve outreach to the Latino electorate. The Republican Party needs to recognize that its long-term ambitions will remain elusive unless it improves its stance on immigration and distances itself from its anti-immigration zealots."