A chance for Sen. Cornyn to get behind immigration reform

Since 2005 Sen. Cornyn has had a record of defeating reform efforts while disguising himself as a fighter to fix the country’s outdated immigration system. And history appears to be repeating itself as Senator Cornyn plays again the double-face strategy of talking but not doing the walking. While accepting the "Small Business Advocate of the Year" award from the Chamber of Commerce in March, Sen. Cornyn talked about the need to fix our broken immigration system. And yet, Sen. Cornyn has voted against the DREAM Act - bill that would provide path to legal status for undocumented students - and recently introduced a "border security only" bill despite the country’s overwhelming support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Sen. Cornyn will very likely face a re-election bid in which he will face a challenger from the tea party. As a result, Cornyn has been taking stances further and further to the right. This isn’t too dissimilar from what occurred in the 2012 election cycle: after an unpleasant purging of candidates like the very experienced Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind) in favor of the unelectable Richard Mourdock, Republicans took that brand of extremity to the polls and it didn’t fare well in November. Sen. Cornyn can till win his primary but not without incurring the wrath of 38 percent of Texas Latino voters, which will only continue to grow between now and the general election and who will rethink their alliance with Texas Republicans.

Based on the principles of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight”, a possible “Southwest Commission,” essentially a group of political leaders from border states, will provide input before a path to citizenship opens up for undocumented immigrants. John Cornyn may very well be one of those on the commission; however, John Cornyn could pose a major obstacle to moving immigration forward as he has been on “Cruz Control” as he stakes out further and further right stances to match his junior senator and avoid losing a primary. While it is bad enough to see a senior senator politically outmaneuvered by the junior senator, it is even worse to see a senior senator sacrificing his long-term career to weather the short-term storm.

The writing is on the wall that the environment for immigration reform has never been better, nor the conditions more demanding, to ramp down the costly enforcement, and embrace the young, working demographic that is roughly 5 times more likely to start their own business: Mayor Bloomberg’s effort have focused on the benefits to the economy of reforming immigration; Silicon Valley, lead by characters like Mark Zuckerberg, are now jumping into the mix in support of humane and practical immigration reform.

Unlike previous attempts, Senator Cornyn's effort to doom immigration reform will not have the same potency or success rate. But what is visible is Senator Cornyn's standing diminishing, particularly as a statesman capable of working across the isle on tough legislative issues. Sen. Cornyn can still take advantage of this last chance to prove to Texans a legacy of firmness in leadership to take on immigration reform that includes not only border security but a practical system that unites families. 

Vargas is director for the DREAM (DRM) Action Coalition and national activist for the DREAM Act.

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