Republicans will forfeit a chance to win Hispanics to their party if Congress can’t agree on a measure to overhaul U.S. immigration laws, supporters of the legislation said yesterday.
The comments were directed at the Republican-dominated House and its leader, Speaker John Boehner. With the Senate poised to advance legislation as soon as this week, attention is turning to the more fractious House, where Republicans have yet to bridge fundamental ideological differences on immigration, let alone begin the complex legal and policy work of passing a bill. If they can’t advance legislation, the political consequences could be dire, some senators warned.
“If it fails and we are blamed for its failure, our party is in trouble with Hispanics,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill, speaking on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “The Hispanic community is very close to our values but we’ve driven them away over this issue.”
If enacted, the Senate legislation would be the first major change to U.S. immigration law since 1986. It would beef up border security and give 11 million illegal residents a chance to become American citizens. Senate Democrats want to pass a bill before July 4.
“There will be huge pressure on Speaker Boehner not to block immigration reform because that will consign the Republican Party to minority status,” Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, said on CNN’s “State of the Union”.
“If he tries to bottle it up or do things like that, I could see a million people on the mall in Washington,” Schumer said. “This has the potential of becoming the next major civil rights movement.”
Graham, of South Carolina, and Schumer, of New York, said they have as many as 70 votes for the legislation, more than enough to get a bill approved in 100-member Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.
“America is not divided on this,” Graham said.
Boehner has said he won’t allow a vote on any proposal unless a majority of his chamber’s Republicans support it. His spokesman, Michael Steel, yesterday said the speaker “has been clear that immigration reform is a priority.” The House Judiciary Committee has been working on the subject and a bipartisan group of lawmakers might announce their own proposal as soon as this week.
Senators last week agreed to toughen the bill’s border security measures in order to win more Republican support. The provision would double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol, adding 20,000 agents, and require 700 miles of fencing at the U.S.-Mexico border. Unmanned aerial drones would be provided to help police the border.
Republicans continue to fight for improved border security measures. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has generally supported rewriting immigration law, announced his opposition to the bill yesterday.
“It’ll pass the Senate but it’s dead on arrival in the House,” Paul said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “The House is much closer to me, and I think they think border security has to come first before you get immigration reform.”
If enacted, the Senate bill would mark the biggest investment in border security in U.S. history, dwarfing a package approved in 2010. That $600 million measure, which Obama signed into law in August 2010, provided 1,500 new agents, new communications equipment and unmanned aircraft.
At the time, many Democrats thought the border agreement might advance the broader political debate on immigration. Republicans won control of the House that November and the issue was stuck in a partisan stalemate until this year.