The underlying truth about Speaker John Boehner’s recent downbeat comments regarding immigration is that modernizing the legal immigration system remains a divisive issue within the Republican Party. Now that the Speaker has slid immigration reform under his mattress (for the time being), it provides some protection to his colleagues worried about confronting Tea Party challengers in their primaries and proves useful as he navigates the debt ceiling increase. While it is easy for Washington, D.C.-based immigrant rights advocacy organizations, media pundits, and political junkies to recognize these maneuvers, average Americans including most immigrants from the outside looking in (Hispanic and Asian voters alike) are bombarded with misinformation and are left to subscribe to recycled talking points.
“United We Dream, the first and largest immigrant youth-led network in the country, condemns Speaker John Boehner’s excuse for blocking a vote on immigration reform in the House of Representatives,” claimed a press statement from the immigrant youth advocacy organization.
Indeed, while Republicans “need” immigration reform to become more engaged with minority communities, it also opens the door for them to introduce Republican values, policy goals, and critical issues facing individuals and multicultural families across the country. This re-branding objective has been elusive ever since losing the 2012 Presidential election when the GOP decided it needed better outreach to minorities. Immigration reform is the gold key to come out strong this year and in the near future. On the other hand, it seems like Democrats show more interest in keeping their seats than truly fighting for immigrants. What do Democrats truly “want”, passing an immigration overhaul or winning elections? As history shows, they could not have both, at the same time.
In 2007, Democrats were instrumental in the botched attempt to re-write our nation’s immigration laws. In 2009 and 2010 many in the immigrant, business, and faith community expected President Obama to introduce a package to modernize the immigration system, given that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Democrats controlled Congress during that period. The president failed to act on his campaign promise. Instead he paved the way for a record of two million deportations.
By claiming immigration reform was “killed” by Speaker John Boehner, Democrats begin kicking the immigration can further down the road to use it as political ammunition during the 2014 mid-term and 2016 presidential elections. Democrats are driving Republicans out of the general election prospects for years to come. In tacit partnership with aligned advocacy groups, they have been orchestrating a plan to target moderate GOP House districts with rapidly shifting racial and ethnic demographics. Democrats corner them by demanding citizenship, a more progressive stance on immigration, which in turn makes GOP incumbents vulnerable to a primary Tea Party challenge, thus raising their prospects for the seat to sway Democrat later.
House Democrats are actively pursuing their dream of immigration reform being defeated by the Tea Party to woo immigrant voters into believing that Republicans are anti-immigrant to the party’s own benefit. An example of this political ploy in action by Democrats is the competitive House race of Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. According to Politico, the 6th has become more liberal and Hispanic. The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, who faces a challenge from Democrat Andrew Romanoff, former Speaker of the Colorado House. Coffman has introduced legislation that will allow certain young immigrants to serve in the armed forces, let alone his stated support for the legalization of adult immigrants. Romanoff, on the other hand, supported legislation that barred undocumented immigrants from access to higher education. Ironically, progressive groups like Americans United seek to tie Coffman to the Tea Party.
This time around, the smoke screen has cleared and voters are carefully watching both parties.
Machado is a research associate with the Bridge Project.