The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

November 5, 2013

GOP divided by immigration debate

(Continued)

Conservatives would rather emphasize border enforcement, even though more than half of the undocumented are estimated not to have entered over the border but to have overstayed their visas.

The pressure is so fierce that a Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio sounded this past weekend as though he was turning against the immigration bill he co-wrote and helped to persuade his fellow senators to pass in June.

In statements released by his spokesman Alex Conant, Rubio proposed a piece-by-piece approach to immigration reform instead of the comprehensive bill favored by the Senate. “(A)t this time, the only approach that has a realistic chance of success is to focus on those aspects of reform on which there is consensus through a series of individual bills,” the spokesman said.

Pessimists say Rubio, a possible presidential hopeful, is knuckling under to pressure from the tea party right. But reformers argue that his support for scaled-back immigration reform is not a deal-breaker, since the Republican-led House was never going to pass the Senate’s comprehensive bill anyway. Since Rubio already lost credibility with House conservatives when he helped to author the bill with the Senate’s “Gang of Eight,” his latest move can be seen as a gesture to meet House Republicans halfway.

Among Democrats, Gutierrez has tried to stay upbeat and keep talking to key Republicans, which is not always easy. For that unease, he didn’t let his own party off the hook, either. After all, he pointed out, President Obama and Democrats didn’t push comprehensive immigration reform when they ran both houses of Congress.

And when he and Rep. Paul Ryan made two joint appearances in Chicago in April on behalf of immigration reform, Gutierrez pointed out, he took heat from Democrats for palling around with the enemy. Outreach, he points out, has to work both ways. “Wash D.C. is a place where bipartisanship is always lauded but never rewarded,” he said.

With non-Hispanic whites expected to become a minority by the mid-2040s, the future of the Republicans as a national party is at stake. Opponents of reform complain that new immigrants would be a gift to Democrats, since they have tended to vote that way. But experience shows Hispanic immigrants and others can be very persuadable, when parties show that their votes are wanted.

E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@tribune.com.

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