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Beam: Political survival top priority

Last Modified: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 5:34 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Supporters of immigration reform are learning quickly that political self-preservation is more important to Republican congressmen than winning presidential elections. If it weren’t, GOP members of the U.S. House of Representatives would probably be more sympathetic towards a Senate-passed immigration bill.

The Senate measure was approved 68-32 with the support of 14 Republican senators. It would spend $46 billion on border security, create new and legal ways for workers to come to this country, require employers to verify their workers’ legal status and offer a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million persons living in this country illegally.

All of those are sticking points with many Republicans. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose parents came to this country from India, echoes the sentiments of conservative Republicans. They believe securing the border has to be done before any of those other provisions come into play. Many Americans agree. They know that promises to do that in the past haven’t succeeded in curbing the illegal flow into this country.

The House faces three choices — pass bills securing the border first, come up with its own comprehensive immigration bill or debate the Senate legislation.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, laid down some tough guidelines. He said he isn’t bringing up the Senate bill, and no legislation is moving unless a majority of the 234 House Republicans support the idea.

How can he be so adamant when he knows that President Obama won re-election with 71 percent of the country’s Hispanic voters? And Republicans know they need more support from those voters if they ever hope to win another presidential election.

Maybe so, but that isn’t their No. 1 priority. GOP House members have other fish to fry. Nearly half of the 234 Republicans (106) come from election districts that have less than 6 percent Hispanic voters. The Associated Press notes that they drew those districts to their liking after the 2010 Census when Republicans took control of many state governments.

Conservatives call the shots in many of those districts. Terri Rogers, 66, of Cedar Rapids, Mich., is one of those voters. She spoke bluntly when GOP Rep. Justin Amash met with his constituents to discuss immigration.

“Compromise is the crucifixion of conscience,” Rogers said.

She also told Amash it wasn’t true that millions of immigrants living in this country illegally couldn’t be rounded up and deported.

“You break the law, you go to jail — or at least go home,” Rogers said. And she suggested the U.S. military could get the job done.

Yes, she may be the member of a far-right segment of the conservative movement, but congressmen who represent those folks believe they can’t afford to ignore their numbers.

John Feehery, a GOP strategist and former House aide, told The AP that members would vote the interests of their districts and their primary-election needs.

“Members are worried about a tea party challenge,” he said “They’re not going to worry about presidential politics.”

Even some Democrats are worried about a feature of the Senate bill that increases federal guest worker programs. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, told The Advocate he supports a comprehensive immigration approach but is concerned about tailoring diversity visas toward high-skilled immigrants. Others agree and are worried that could make it harder for Americans to find and keep jobs.

The path to citizenship is another major problem for House Republicans. Many GOP members represent white conservatives who oppose the concept, believing it leads to amnesty. They think it has to come after the border is really secure.

Jindal said, “If and when the folks in Washington want to successfully reform our immigration system, they will have to accept the simple fact that it needs to be done in stages. An all-or-nothing approach will likely yield what it usually yields — nothing,” he said in an article he wrote for “National Review,” a conservative magazine.

Don’t get the idea that Republicans are the only ones being stubborn on immigration. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and one of the authors of the Senate bill, said any legislation short of a path to citizenship won’t fly.

“America has stood for citizenship,” Schumer said. “We have a Statue of Liberty here. It never has said you come here and you’ll be second class. We will not stand for it. It will not happen.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, offers a more reasonable approach in comments he made to The Times-Picayune.

“America has always been a nation that welcomes legal immigrants who come seeking a better life, like my great-grandparents did when they came here from Italy, but our broken immigration system won’t be fixed until we first secure our border and start fixing the broken parts of our legal immigration system,” Scalise said. “Unfortunately, the 1,200 page Senate bill fails to secure the border and properly address the needs of the more than four million people waiting in line to enter our country legally.”

Border security is the central key to solving this problem, but the Senate bill only promises that a lockdown will be effective. Fulfill that promise, and then talk about the rest of this complex issue. Otherwise, immigration reform will probably have to wait for another day.

    • • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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