Border policy tension mounts

Despite ongoing bipartisan immigration talks, and as Senate Republicans court Democratic support for a White House-backed reform plan, political tension is mounting over border policy.

Hispanic-American groups and Democratic lawmakers left for recess last week disappointed by Senate Republicans’ objection to unanimous passage of a resolution honoring Cesar Chavez. Republicans sought to add language describing the Mexican-American labor leader’s criticism of employers who hired illegal immigrants to combat the rise of farmworkers’ unions in the 1960s.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) chastised the GOP move as “outrageous” and “disrespect[ful]” Saturday in a statement marking Chavez’s birthday.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), cosponsor of the Chavez resolution and a participant in the Senate-White House immigration talks, echoed Reid’s dismay: “Cesar Chavez helped permanently improve conditions for American workers and farm laborers — his memory should be honored, not used for political tricks.”

Republican leaders had little time to avoid an objection, GOP sources said, because they did not receive a copy of the Chavez resolution until Thursday afternoon, after most members had gone home.

“It seemed almost a setup,” a Senate Republican aide said. “Cesar Chavez’s birthday is celebrated the same day every year, so why was this resolution introduced three hours after the last vote?”

Democratic aides said the stalling of the Chavez measure is unlikely to have a negative impact on the broader immigration talks taking place. Yet they questioned why Republicans would push for contentious language in an otherwise uncontroversial honorific.

“I don’t know what [Republicans] were hoping to accomplish with that [blocking] except pleasing a few Lou Dobbs-type folks,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said, referring to the CNN host.