Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

Immigration reform isn't dead yet

"I'm seldom accused of being too nice," writes Rep. Luis Gutierrez in his lively new autobiography. Yet the feisty and frank Chicago Democrat has been sounding a lot like Mr. Nice Guy these days as he tries to salvage immigration reform in the GOP-controlled House.

His book, "Still Dreaming: My Journey from the Barrio to Capitol Hill," stirred considerable buzz for its less-than-flattering portrayal of President Barack Obama, of whom Mr. Gutierrez was an early supporter, for failing to push immigration reform during his first term as he had promised.

But on the heels of the government shutdown and the debt-ceiling showdown, the second-term president and both parties have new incentives to pass immigration reform -- with less than a month left on the congressional calendar before the end of the year.

"I feel very, very optimistic," Mr. Gutierrez told me in a phone interview between meetings on Capitol Hill. In spite of Washington's bitter partisanship on full display in recent weeks, "quiet diplomacy" and "dialogue" about immigration reform "continued during all of that time."

Not everybody shares his optimism. Immigration has long divided House Republicans and the rest of the Grand Old Party. Amid changing times and demographics, the party faces a dilemma over how it can polish its brand and expand its reach without losing its conservative base.

Pragmatic moderates in the GOP leadership want to fix our broken immigration system to spur economic growth and broaden the party's ethnic diversity after last November's presidential election loss. The only specific policy recommendation in the national party's post-election "autopsy" called for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

But conservatives oppose anything that resembles "amnesty," including the "pathway" to legalization and ultimately citizenship that Mr. Gutierrez and other Democrats want for the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented workers.

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, Senator 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 Mr. 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 Senator 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, Mr. 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, Mr. 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.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His email is cpage@tribune.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Obama's disastrous immigration policy
    Obama's disastrous immigration policy

    The misguided immigration policies of President Barack Obama will have disastrous consequences for the nation's future ("Immigration reprieve would apply to 55,000 in Maryland," Feb. 8).

  • Ignorance on immigration
    Ignorance on immigration

    Republicans have written to your newspaper claiming that President Barack Obama, former Gov. Martin O'Malley and other Democratic elected officials are trying to "give voting rights to millions of undocumented immigrants who came here illegally and don't belong in this country in the first place"...

  • Who do the Democrats think they're fooling?
    Who do the Democrats think they're fooling?

    I am disappointed but not surprised by the furor over whether to fully fund the Department of Homeland Security ("Congress OKs deal to avoid shutdown at Homeland Security," Feb. 27).

  • Executive orders are a bipartisan pastime
    Executive orders are a bipartisan pastime

    House Speaker John Boehner has made it clear that he intends to block the Obama administration's executive order shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from the threat of immediate deportation ("Congress scrambles to avoid Homeland Security shutdown," Feb. 26).

  • Democrats side with foreigners
    Democrats side with foreigners

    Democrats are telling Republicans to put the American people first and pass a clean Department of Homeland Security funding bill because Democratic senators will not accept anything other than a clean bill ("Congress OKs deal to avoid shutdown at Homeland Security," Feb. 27). Republicans say they...

  • Don't send $1B to Central America
    Don't send $1B to Central America

    The Obama administration has a plan to pour $1 billion of U.S. taxpayer money into Central America "to try to slow the flow of unaccompanied minors and other migrants without documentation" to the U.S. ("Democrats press Kerry on $1B Latin aid request," Feb. 25). Just wondering, wouldn't $1 billion...

  • GOP must stick to its guns on immigration, Homeland Security budget
    GOP must stick to its guns on immigration, Homeland Security budget

    Some thoughts on your editorial regarding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security budget while basking in climate cooling ("No time to make America less safe," Feb. 16). First, why is it OK for the Democrats to filibuster and not pay a price when the GOP would be blasted for the same technique?

  • We need data, not guesses on the economics of immigration
    We need data, not guesses on the economics of immigration

    John Fritze and Luke Broadwater's article "Baltimore weighs in on immigration lawsuit" ("Jan. 24) does an excellent job of identifying some of the potential economic pros and cons of undocumented immigrants living in our communities. It discusses "a federal lawsuit that has divided state and local...

Comments
Loading

50°