The Center for Community Change’s Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) released a statement this afternoon announcing that leaders from their group met with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to discuss the future of comprehensive immigration reform in the Republican Party. According to FIRM, advocates left the meeting with a “commitment from Steele to work with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and the party’s leadership to enlist another Republican senator’s support for comprehensive and bipartisan immigration reform.” The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) was one of the groups represented at the meeting and issued a separate release:
Chairman Steele understands the short- and long-term importance of the immigrant vote to the Republican Party. He expressed support for bipartisan, holistic immigration reform, and understood the need for the party to tone down the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the debate. He agreed to speak today with U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to see how he could help move immigration reform forward…We are grateful for the time Chairman Steele spent with us today—but we will judge the value of this meeting based on what the Republican Party actually does on immigration reform.
Marissa Graciosa, FIRM’s director, was more blunt. “Basically, the leaders outed the Republican strategy of trying to obstruct comprehensive immigration reform by blaming Obama,” Graciosa told Wonk Room. “They made it clear that we’re not going to let a Party who doesn’t lift a finger off the hook,” said Graciosa. Graciosa also indicated that the groups expect the RNC to issue a statement to its members in support of immigration reform.
The fact that Steele even expressed interest in pursuing immigration reform represents a welcomed turnaround. In 2007, Steele absurdly opposed giving driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants on the basis that they might register to vote. He also referred to the 2007 immigration bill as “amnesty” and affirmed in 2008 that there would be no change in the Republican Party’s enforcement-only immigration approach.
Steele’s cooperation could also signal a possible change in the RNC’s official policy. The 2008 RNC platform offered enforcement-only solutions and stated that the RNC opposed “en masse legalizations.” Since an earned path to legalization for the majority of the nation’s undocumented population is a central tenet of comprehensive immigration reform, getting an RNC chairman on-board is a critical step forward on the issue as a whole.
However, as ICIRR pointed out in its press release, actions speak louder than words. Currently, Graham has left immigration reform at the feet of the Obama administration and indicated that it’s up to the White House to do the “heavy-lifting.” However, in the end, it’s up to Congress to deliver the votes. Immigration reform has always demanded bipartisanship and that means Graham, Steele, and other GOP leaders are going to have to do some heavy lifting themselves if they are truly committed to the issue. Also, given the fact that Steele’s relationship with Republican leaders in Congress is reportedly “not good at all,” it’s mostly up to Graham to stop finger-pointing and start getting members of his own Party to come around.