Carl Leubsdorf: Immigration shows House GOP up to same old tricks

05/08/2013 12:00 AM

05/07/2013 6:08 PM

Since winning the House in 2010, Republicans have gained a well-deserved reputation for negativity, repeatedly opposing President Obama’s proposals and nearly plunging the United States into default.

Now, they’re doing it again with a plan for considering immigration reform legislation that threatens passage of a measure whose enactment is important both to the country and the GOP’s own future success.

Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, plans to divide the measure into three main parts, rather than seek a comprehensive measure like the Senate bill that combines increased border security, a plan for temporary workers and an eventual path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million here illegally.

Since many House Republicans oppose any citizenship, there’s no guarantee a separate measure providing it would pass. For that matter, there’s no guarantee yet that the House bill will go that far, despite support from key Republicans such as the 2012 vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

House failure to pass a bill promising immigrants who are here illegally eventual citizenship could undermine the broad bipartisan effort to deal once and for all with the issue.

That would be bad for the country and its millions of Hispanic residents, legal and illegal. But the biggest political losers would be the Republicans. They need desperately to shed the albatross of being viewed as an anti-Hispanic party, lest it continue to damage them in presidential elections.

Goodlatte said his panel would start with a guest-worker program for farm workers requiring employers to use the electronic verification system to check their immigration status.

Obama made clear last week that any bill without a path to citizenship would be a nonstarter for him. Restating that it’s among his basic criteria for immigration legislation, he told a news conference, “If it doesn’t meet those criteria, then I will not support such a bill.”

Meanwhile, one of the principal architects of the bipartisan measure that the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to consider starting Tuesday criticized the concept of separate bills.

“The best way to pass immigration legislation is actually a comprehensive bill, because that can achieve more balance and everybody can get much but not all of what they want,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

But the Senate bill faces numerous challenges including a proposal by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman, to give gay Americans the same right to sponsor foreign partners for green cards as heterosexuals.

And another main sponsor, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he thinks its enforcement provisions need to be strengthened, telling radio talk-show host Mike Gallagher that “the bill that’s in place now probably can’t pass the House.”

Both parties have a stake in passing a comprehensive immigration bill. Obama has promised one since 2008, and the GOP needs it for its long-term viability.

The 2012 elections showed that in an increasingly diverse electorate, the Republicans can no longer succeed nationally with a strong majority of white votes and a decreasing share of minority votes. As one of the two largest growing ethnic groups, along with the burgeoning Asian-American community, Hispanics have become an especial target for the GOP.

The statistics are stark. In 2004, President Bush’ won re-election, thanks in part to receiving 44 percent of Hispanic votes, according to exit polls. But the GOP lost in 2008 when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., polled 31 percent of Latino votes and in 2012 when Mitt Romney got only 27 percent.

Though Obama and the Democrats may benefit more if a comprehensive bill passes, Republicans will also win by helping resolve the issue. But if they are once more responsible for scuttling a bill, their problems with Hispanic voters will increase and their chances of winning the presidency will continue to diminish.

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