National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


House Leaders Bow to Immigration Hardliners, Delaying Reform

June 23, 2006

Washington, DC - Earlier this week, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other key House GOP leaders announced they would hold a series of public hearings across the country to examine Senate-passed immigration and border security legislation. The following is a statement by Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington, DC.

The announcement of an immigration hearing road-show is not encouraging.  House hardliners are holding the country and the Republican Party hostage to their uncompromising and unrealistic, enforcement-only approach to immigration reform.  Facing this pressure, House GOP leaders have decided to "cut and run" on the immigration issue.  While they will use the hearings to make it appear they are doing something, they are really trying to run out the clock and avoid confronting the anti-immigrant wing of the party with the inconvenient truth that they are out-of-step with the American people.

There is mounting evidence that immigration hardliners are misunderstanding the public's mood and policy desires on immigration.  This week, the conservative Manhattan Institute released a poll conducted June 12-15 with Republican "likely voters" nationwide by The Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm.  The poll showed overwhelming support (75%) for a policy that combines border and workplace enforcement with wider legal immigration channels and a path to citizenship for immigrants who pay taxes, pay fines, learn English, and avoid criminal activity, with 60% saying they would be more likely to support a candidate who supports this policy.  Moreover, 72% of the Republicans polled said it was extremely important (40%) or very important (32%) for Congress to solve the problem of illegal immigration this year.

The Manhattan/Tarrance poll is highly consistent with other national polls that find hard-line, "'amnesty'-over-my-dead-body" voters to be a distinct minority, probably even within the Republican Party.  The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, released June 15, and a USA Today analysis of Gallup polling, released May 30, address this, among other recent examples.

Members of Congress listen to talk radio, watch Lou Dobbs and Fox News, and start to believe that the angry anti-immigrant contingent that calls and e-mails their offices, mails them bricks, and makes impassioned speeches at town hall meetings represents the typical American voter.  While the intensity of the anti-immigrant movement is clear, their actual numbers are not. 

Meanwhile, pragmatic or moderate voters may be turned off by the talk of walls and round-ups.  Potential immigrant voters - currently applying for citizenship at record rates - are no doubt evaluating in which party they feel most welcome.

The only way to get control over immigration is to combine workplace enforcement and border security with a plan to put our immigration system on a realistic and legal footing, reducing the incentives that currently drive immigrants and employers into the black market and underground.  Combining enforcement with realistic legal immigration limits, timely family reunification, respect for rights for immigrant and non-immigrant workers, and a plan that allows undocumented immigrants currently in the country to earn their way to the right side of the law through fines, taxes, English, clean records, and waiting times is the only combination of policies that will both work when implemented and which can pass with bipartisan support.

When the American people have been so clear about wanting a solution that deals with these realities, it is a shame that House leaders are so deaf to their pleas.


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