National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


The Nation Wants Leadership, Not a Food Fight

April 14, 2006

Washington, DCThe following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington DC.

In recent weeks it is as if the nation has risen up, from different quarters and in different ways, to press our leaders to fix our nation’s dysfunctional immigration system once and for all.

·         Last week a group of courageous leaders in the U.S. Senate hammered out a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform legislation.  While far from perfect, the bill they wrote represents a major step forward in the quest for a workable immigration reform package.

·         Over the weekend and on Monday, April 10, more than 2 million immigrants and their allies marched and rallied in white T-shirts while waving American flags, asking for nothing more than the chance to be welcomed formally to the country they already call home.

·         In recent days, polls conducted by independent news organizations have invariably come to the same conclusion: the public is frustrated with the lack of action on this critically important issue; they want their leaders to step in with a solution; and they want the solution to restore the rule of law while bringing immigrants out of the shadows.

Sadly, our top political leaders have responded to this historic convergence of political leadership, political protest, and public demand with a blame game that has only intensified and deteriorated.

·         Early in the week a front page New York Times story:  It quoted an unnamed Democratic Senator taking a shot at Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) for trying to move immigration legislation, as if trying to solve a pressing policy concern on a bipartisan basis these days is politically naïve.

·         Enter the President:  He presides over a Republican Party divided on this public policy issue.  But instead of weighing in with a strong statement of policy specifics or working to convince reluctant Republicans to get on board with comprehensive reform, he fuels the fire by blaming the Senate Minority Leader by name.

·         And today, a new low:  The Associated Press reports that the RNC will be running Spanish language ads against Senator Reid making the outrageous claim that "Reid's Democrat allies voted to treat millions of hardworking immigrants as felons.”

The nation cries out for political leadership.  Millions of immigrants stand up for the American Dream.  Courageous Senators stand up for solutions.  And our top political leaders respond with hit pieces based on unnamed sources, finger pointing, and outrageous misrepresentations in attack ads.

The RNC radio ads deserve special condemnation.  Claiming that Democrats are responsible for the Sensenbrenner Bill provision that makes mere illegal presence an aggravated felony is nothing but a bald-faced lie.  We were there.  We watched it unfold.  The provision was in the underlying bill drafted by Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI), presumably to secure the votes of the hard right wing of the Republican House in order to get the rule approved governing the floor debate.  Once on the floor, Rep. Sensenbrenner, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, sought to amend the provision to reduce it to a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail.  The amendment was defeated because Democrats refused to vote for anything that criminalized hardworking immigrant families merely for being here, and hawkish Republicans refused to reduce the aggravated felony definition to a misdemeanor.  In the end, the vast majority of Republicans voted for the bill – with the aggravated felony provision in it – and the vast majority of Democrats voted against it.

In fact, the truth is that “Reid’s Democrats” are responsible for making sure the criminalization provisions were taken out of the Senate bill.  In the Judiciary Committee Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) took the lead on this issue, insisted on an up-or-down vote, and on the strength of all the Committee’s Democrats and a few principled Republicans, the criminalization provision was removed.  As a result, it is no longer in the bill now before the full Senate.  

The American people are demanding our political leaders rise to the challenge and do their jobs.  We call on them to respond by turning off their war rooms and getting back to the negotiating table.  We urge them do so in the spirit of the courage, idealism, and patriotism of the brave reformers who took a stand in the Senate last week and of the brave immigrant families who came out of the shadows and into the streets at last week’s rallies. 


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