Today, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) will meet with President Obama to talk about a way to pass immigration reform or the DREAM Act during Congress’s lame-duck session. If the Democrats decide to move forward on immigration, it will be the first time Congress seriously undertakes immigration since the failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 and the DREAM Act debate which took place a few months later.
The first bill was strongly backed by the White House, which was then occupied by the second Bush administration. Former President George W. Bush reflected on the failure of immigration reform at a book fair this past weekend:
BUSH: The issue got away. The rhetoric on the issue was very difficult. And somebody was nervous about the border — and I can understand why people are, we ought to enforce our borders — but automatically labeling any comprehensive plan as pure amnesty made it very difficult to get people to pay attention.
Meanwhile, last night, former Secretary of State from the first Bush administration, Colin Powell, explained what moderate Republicans should stand for:
POWELL: A moderate Republican in my judgement is someone who is quite sympathetic to the social needs of our citizens, who is open towards immigration. Immigration is keeping our country thriving. And the issue of civil rights and the issue of taking care of those in our society who are not doing as well as the rest of us — I think that should be part of the Republican mantra too.
Over the past couple of weeks, Bush has repeatedly alluded to the heated rhetoric around the immigration issue that killed comprehensive reform. Yet, he has stopped short of naming names. As Congress considers taking up the issue again, it’s worth noting that it was members of Bush’s own party that engaged in anti-immigrant fear mongering and that they paid for it dearly in the 2008 elections.
Back when Bush was president, Congress still had plenty of Republicans who were moderate on immigration. In fact, several of them — including Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — were looked upon as champions of immigration reform. Now, those three Senators, along with the rest of their party, are the biggest thing standing in its way. Most of them have resorted to the polarizing rhetoric cited by Bush whenever any plan to regularize the status of undocumented immigrants is brought up. No matter how stringent the penalties and requirements are, they cry “amnesty.”
I’ve written before about the serious defects of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, but, regardless of its flaws, it represents an era of bipartisanship and compromise on immigration that Republicans seem incapable of today. I’d love for Republicans to prove me wrong by embracing immigration legislation in the next few weeks. I’m not holding my breath on that, but I am willing to place money on the fact that if they don’t, the Latino vote will come back to bite them again in 2012.