US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The new Congress and immigration

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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The 112th Congress began this week with the House turning over to the Republicans and the Senate welcoming six new GOP senators. Many of the newcomers owe their elections and first allegiance to the Tea Party and come to Washington, not only flush with victory, but angry that their elder colleagues had crumpled before President Barach Obama in the lame duck session. That does not bode well for new House Speaker John Boehner.

What does that mean for immigration reform? No good! Immigrant activists recognize that they’ll be playing defense for at least the next two years. House committees with jurisdiction over immigration have new chairs that have said harsh things in the past, though some of them have been speaking more statesman-like over the New Year weekend.

Still the new chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee, Steve King of Iowa, seems ready to throw all undocumented (see Arizona Republic). But actually, immigration—a hot embers issue for the tea partiers—is not their most urgent priority, The House Republicans will be immediately preoccupied with the debt authorization, spending for next year, and repealing Obamacare.

The GOP, however, is not united on what to do on immigration. Their stock answer about their plan for reform is “secure the border and punish employers of illegals and then let's talk about 11 million undocumented.” More moderate Republicans, who have supported various aspects of reform in the past, are not Tea Partiers, but they are afraid of what the Tea Party can do in a Republican primary. The Republican base is far from supportive of the wilder proposals—mass deportations and denial of citizenship of the U.S.-born children of the undocumented.

Whether the leadership will let these measures get to the floor is doubtful. Even the chair of the House Judiciary, Lamar Smith, knows that’s futile, since they are not likely to get beyond the Democratic-controlled Senate or an Obama veto.

The real issue that splits Republicans will be “employer sanctions” and the extension of e-verification, a system of checking Social Security numbers presented by new hires. For example, the National Chamber of Commerce which was actively supportive of Republicans in the last election is adamantly opposed to greater pressure on employers. They're even allied with immigration activists for comprehensive reform—including a path to citizenship (see Los Angeles Times).

Other Republican voices also warn against further alienating Hispanics, who voted about 80 percent Democrat in the last election. The GOP was successful in electing Hispanic candidates—a senator in Florida, governors in New Mexico, five congressmen, and some to state legislatures. Still the moderate voices have to deal with even greater Tea Party success in state legislatures—690 new seats (see last post on developments at the state level).

Some Washington observers thinks the GOP leadership will allow the Tea Party House members to bring forward extreme measures—not just on immigration—for a vote and pass them on to a Senate where they know the measures will either be voted down or change them radically. That would afford members nervous about their 2012 primaries a chance to look tough on immigration without doing real harm. No wonder the Tea Party don’t trust the GOP leadership.