If you’re a news junkie/policy nerd like me, watching the live stream of the Senate Judiciary Committee mark up the immigration bill was our American Idol or The Voice. The star was not chairman Patrick Leahy. It wasn’t upstart Texas Senator and Tea Party darling Ted Cruz who set Twitter on fire with his draconian amendment to not allow–never EVER–immigrants in the country illegally to apply for citizenship.
The lawmaker who wrested the spotlight from others was Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. He exercised his duty to advise and consent, talking.
The content of his habla is what caught my attention.
The Republican in part argued that immigrants are destined to become charges of the state, sooner or later applying for benefits such as Medicare and food stamps to be footed by the American tax payer. This must be the intellectual underpinning of the amendment he introduced to severely restrict the number of legal immigrants, natural born “takers” who when naturalized will be a drag on our economy. Not a single conservative backed him, the abandonment by his party called a “smackdown.”
Only thing is he isn’t alone.
Senator Sessions who hails from the state that passed the most restrictive immigration law in the nation, virtually cited the talking points chapter and verse of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s immigration report. The revelations that co-author Jason Richwine published modern day eugenicist views which label Hispanics’ IQ as low for generations, largely contributed to discrediting this study which I write about in Heritage Immigration Report: Latino Small Brains & Long Political Memory.
Senator Sessions’ arguments find intellectual company not only with the Heritage Foundation but NumbersUSA and Fairness for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the latter organization founded by John Tanton whose views the Southern Poverty Law Center calls nativist and racist.
As the bill goes to the full Senate for a vote likely in June, we will see the diversity of the bill’s opposition, including enforcement agency unions and some conservative grass roots organizations. Add media personalities such as radio host Laura Ingraham and columnist Michelle Malkin who can rile up the base. For those who remember the health care debate, facing angry constituents at town halls back in their districts could spook House members, where passing the immigration bill and squaring it with the Senate’s, is already facing a steep climb.
As I’ve said before, debate, dissent, and lawmaker’s duty to advise and consent is critical to a healthy democracy. But tone and rhetoric matter to Latino voters, an emerging political class that repudiated President Obama’s “self-deportation” Republican challenger three to one.
Perception becomes reality as I write in Latino IQ Quiz: Does the GOP Hate Hispanics? a) Yes b) No c) Maybe d) Can You Repeat? with the Republican party struggling to recruit and retain voters outside its core white, male, and Christian base. Mainstream Republicans read the data which dooms the party with the young generation, single women, minorities, especially Latinos. They tell me that to stay relevant and competitive with Hispanics, where the electorate’s growth has the most potential, immigration must pass. Making this political elefante in the room go poof–disappear–is a question of self-preservation.
That will require a winning coalition of Republicans in the Senate, and crucially in the House.
Which “voice” will prevail?
This post is part of the original The Wise Latina Club series “Anatomy of an Immigration Debate” which analyze the charged political and social context of this debate within the context of the extraordinary demographic changes confirmed by the 2010 U.S. Census. Click here to read previous entries.