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August 06, 2013

Immigration Debate Divides Republicans

by Jim Malone

Supporters of immigration reform say they will be out in force this month pressuring members of Congress to pass legislation that establishes a path to citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The Senate has passed a comprehensive reform bill but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is moving more slowly.

Supporters of immigration reform rally near the Capitol in Washington, hoping to convince lawmakers to act. House Republicans appear to be in no hurry, though, including Congressman Steve King of Iowa.

King recently sparked anger when he dismissed many young immigrants as drug smugglers in an interview with Newsmax TV. “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they are hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” he said.

Among those condemning King was Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner. “What he said does not reflect the values of the American people or the Republican Party. We all need to do our work in a constructive, open and respectful way.”

The immigration debate has divided Republicans in Congress, especially over a path to citizenship. Many conservatives see that as amnesty for those who entered the country illegally.

Carroll Doherty, with the Pew Research Center in Washington, said, “They look confused about which direction to head and even about some of the basic principles of their philosophy. Do they present a more moderate face on issues like gay marriage and immigration or not?”

Moderate Republicans favor passing some version of immigration reform, said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “This is a signal to Hispanics, to Asians, to other minorities that we care about your plight because we understand that you are not going to listen to what we have to say on policy if you think we are going to deport your grandmother.”

House Republicans say they will not follow the Senate’s lead and pass a comprehensive bill. Their first priority is shoring up the U.S. border with Mexico.

Despite the slow progress in the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi remains upbeat. “I’m optimistic about it because it has to happen. We just cannot let this languish,” she said.

Failing to reach out to minority voters could have enormous consequences for a Republican Party trying to change its image, said O’Connell.

“That the Republicans are only concerned about white voters and they are not concerned about the rank and file voter, and I hate to tell people that if you kill immigration reform, in the long run you could wind up killing the Republican Party,” he said.

The House resumes debate on immigration when lawmakers return to Washington next month.