Earlier this week, the Houston Chronicle reported that Texas clergy members were meeting with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that they would “have his back if he risks becoming a target of that anger by helping craft and pass comprehensive immigration reform.” Cornyn responded by punting on the issue and saying that it is up to President Obama to lead. Members of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) responded urging its 30,000 members to flood Cornyn’s phone lines “asking Senator Cornyn to turn down Obama, Graham, Schumer and McCain’s requests for him to support comprehensive immigration reform amnesty.” Today, ALIPAC patted itself on the back and took credit for Cornyn stating “I do not and will not support amnesty” after the calls were made.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-TX) has indicated that he will not go forward with the comprehensive immigration reform bill that he is working on with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) if they cannot find another Republican co-sponsor. Given that fact, if ALIPAC did succeed in bullying Cornyn out of supporting an effort that a majority of the American people want to see, ALIPAC can also credit itself with bringing the nation another step farther away from fixing the nation’s broken immigration sytem.
Chances are it’s more complicated than that. To begin with, Schumer and Graham aren’t proposing simply pardoning 12 million unauthorized immigrants and overlooking the fact that they have broken the law by entering and most likely working in the country without proper documentation, as the term “amnesty” implies. Schumer and Graham have proposed putting undocumented immigrants on an “earned path to legalization” that would involve paying a fine, registering with the government, learning English, and undergoing a background check. It’s possible that Cornyn is against “amnesty,” but is open to the approach that Schumer and Graham have put forth.
What’s more likely is that Cornyn is simply playing politics with the White House. Cornyn has repeatedly said he is willing to work on comprehensive immigration reform, but that it’s up to President Obama to lead:
I applaud President Obama’s commitment to addressing comprehensive immigration reform this year, and stand ready to work with him to produce a product that represents the best interests of America, including respect for the rule of law, national security and economic security (4/9/2009) “I’d like to see the president’s plan,” Cornyn went on. “That’s part of leadership, and that’s the only way this is going to get done with the president laying out for the members of Congress what his plan is and rallying people to try to deal with this very difficult and complex issue.” (4/30/2009) “What we need is not another photo op at the White House. What we need now is a plan from the president,” said Cornyn, ranking member on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. “The president doesn’t write legislation, but he does have the bully pulpit,” Cornyn said, adding that right now “it’s unclear how they can get it finished.” (6/23/2009) “Immigration reform should make it easier for businesses to hire legally and for our economy to retain highly skilled workers. Obama must lead on immigration by offering specific proposals to secure our borders, upholding the rule of law and treating illegal immigrants with justice and compassion.” (1/12/2010) “There isn’t a bill,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), who met last week with Schumer to discuss immigration reform. “I told Senator Schumer I’d like to work with him and find common ground. More than a year later, it continues sliding down his priority list behind health care, climate change and adding trillions to the national debt over the next decade. If we are going to truly reform our immigration system, it’s time for President Obama to do that which the people elected him to do: lead.” (3/16/2010)
Today, the White House punted the ball back to Cornyn — and any Republican that has used Obama’s lack of leadership as an excuse to sidestep the issue of immigration reform. This afternoon the White House released a statement endorsing the Schumer-Graham plan and indicated the next steps involve crafting the legislative language and finding Republicans who are bold enough to ignore the small, but vocal minority that ALIPAC represents and get on-board with the effort to fix the nation’s immigration laws.