Immigration reformers have the wind at their backs this week, buoyed by support not just from Republican senators, but an array of conservative interest groups who have signed on to their cause. But the reignited debate is also driving the opposition’s hardliners out into the open, offering the clearest picture yet of the fault lines Congress must overcome to pass a bill.
Among lawmakers, most Republicans in Congress are taking a wait-and-see approach for now. An exception in the Senate is David Vitter (R-LA), who ripped into Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Wednesday as “amazingly naive” and “nuts” for supporting the Senate’s bipartisan plan.
In the House, a handful of Republican members made clear immediately that they were not on board for anything resembling the reforms under discussion in the Senate and White House. And despite Republican efforts to neutralize attacks on a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as “amnesty,” the dreaded a-word was at the center of their attacks.
“By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said in a statement.
“It’s very difficult for me to support something that allows that type of amnesty,” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told Newsday.
Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) has also taken on an early role as an outspoken critic of reform.
At least as troubling for national Republicans hoping to use immigration talks as a means to repair their political standing after 2012 is conservative media’s reactions. While some major TV personalities like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly have voiced support for a comprehensive bill, other major outlets and commentators are preparing for war. And already the conversation is drifting to arguments that could further alienate Hispanic voters.
One emerging meme on the right, for example, is that Hispanics will never vote for Republicans because their community is inherently contemptuous of capitalism and family values. This was a key argument in the National Review’s editorial condemning the Senate’s immigration framework on Wednesday:
“[I]f we are to take Hispanics at their word, conservative attitudes toward illegal immigration are a minor reason for their voting preferences. While many are in business for themselves, they express hostile attitudes toward free enterprise in polls. They are disproportionately low-income and disproportionately likely to receive some form of government support. More than half of Hispanic births are out of wedlock. Take away the Spanish surname and Latino voters look a great deal like many other Democratic constituencies.”
Rush Limbaugh, who recently declared that “it’s up to me and FOX News” to stop a bill from passing, told Rubio in an interview this week that he believed immigrants no longer came to America because they wanted “to become citizens of the greatest country on earth.”
“I’ve seen a number of research, scholarly research data, which says that a vast majority of arriving immigrants today come here because they believe that government is the source of prosperity, and that’s what they support,” Limbaugh said.
As he did with Limbaugh, Rubio has been making the rounds with almost every major conservative media personality to pitch reform. But while they’ve offered him a respectful hearing and often praised him personally, many still appear skeptical of any legislation and could form the core of any organized opposition to a bill.
RedState’s Erick Erickson, often a bellwether for the conservative grassroots, also opposed the Senate’s plan, albeit for less conventionally partisan reasons than Limbaugh or the National Review. According to Erickson, one of his chief concerns was that the bill doesn’t expand legal immigration to low-skill workers enough to discourage people from entering the country illegally. Rubio wrote a lengthy point-by-point rebuttal on Erickson’s site arguing that a temporary worker program included in the Senate plan would address the issue.