Political Developments Chill Immigration Reform

In new signs that prospects for immigration reform legislation are all but dead for now, developments in both state and national arenas have pushed a solution to the issue farther down the political tracks.

For starters, Texas Republicans readopted a tough stance at the party’s convention in Fort Worth last weekend. Drawing more than 7,000 delegates, the Lone Star GOP convention voted to remove a 2012 position statement known as the “Texas Solution” which backed a guest worker system for undocumented persons.

The party delegates came out against a guest worker program but held out the possibility of granting visas to workers in industries facing labor shortages, as long as “really secure borders” and a universal E-Verify employee eligibility system were in place.  The new state party platform includes opposition to in-state college tuition for undocumented students, and supports prohibiting municipalities from taking measures against enforcing federal immigration law.

Additionally, the Republican activists voted against a proposal that would have supported temporary visas, an idea which has been floated within the Republican Party as an alternative to a path to citizenship for undocumented residents of the United States.

Arturo Martinez de Vara, Republican supporter of the so-called “Texas Solution,” blamed procedural confusion for his party’s return to a harder-line immigration stance.
Houston restaurant owner Brad Bailey, who was involved in promoting the “Texas Solution”, sounded a similar note about the anti-reform forces’ triumph. “I’ll give them credit, they outworked us,” Bailey said.

But Emmanuel Garcia, Texas state Democratic Party communications director, said the Fort Worth convention “once again revealed that compassionate conservatism and Republican pragmatism don’t mesh.”

Tea Party activists were credited for pushing the Texas GOP further to the right on the long unresolved immigration debate.

Evoking loud applause from the convention floor, Dallas delegate Ivette Lozano compared a more liberal immigration posture with negotiating with terrorists.

“There is language that allows us to slide toward amnesty,” San Antonio delegate Jack M. Finger, said about a soon-to-be defeated immigration platform proposal.  “Guest worker, visa permit,  all that puts us on a road to make our citizenship meaningless.”

Of 200 platform proposals submitted to state Republican leaders in Fort Worth last Friday, 150 of them had to do with immigration.

Even as the dust was settling from the Texas convention, the national political scene was jolted when a Tea Party-supported challenger, economics professor David Brat, unseated Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the June 10 Virginia primary.

Although critics have blasted Cantor for helping block a Senate-passed immigration reform in the House, Brat ran on adamant opposition to “amnesty” for the undocumented.

Pundits, political observers and pro-reform activists weighed in on the implications of Brat’s historic upset victory, with some contending that now more than ever legal relief for immigrants will have to come about through administrative action from the White House.

“This shows there is no chance of getting anything done legislatively through the summer, after which it would be difficult to get anything done with presidential speculation beginning,” said the Dream Action Coalition’s Cesar Nunez in a statement.

“Obama offered the House another chance and they are making it very clear they have no intention of taking it:  he should offer deportation relief, and other forms of administrative relief, now.”

Perhaps paradoxically,  the events in Texas and Virginia occurred at a moment when a new survey sponsored by the Brookings Institution and Public Religion Research Institute found that a majority of participants (62 percent)  supported a path to citizenship for the undocumented if applicants meet certain conditions.

Even a majority of self-identified Republicans surveyed (51 percent) supported a path to citizenship, according to the Brookings Institution.

“Americans continue to favor allowing immigrants living the country illegally who were brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college, a policy which comprises the basic elements of the (proposed) DREAM Act,” the Washington think tank added.

Contrary to the results of this week’s Virginia primary, the survey’s authors concluded that opposition to immigration reform could become a political liability, with 53 percent of potential voters affirming they would be less likely to vote for a candidate opposed to a citizenship pathway, while only 16 percent were in favor of voting for an anti-reform political contender. For about 30 percent of the respondents, the immigration question was not an issue which would influence their vote.

Additional sources: NPR, June 10, 2014.  El Diario de El Paso/Texas Tribune, June 9, 2014. Foxnews.com/Associated Press, June 8, 2014.

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