WASHINGTON -- Immigration reform hit its first speed bump Monday when conservative talk radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh came out against a new bipartisan proposal.
As five U.S. senators appeared on Capitol Hill to talk about their agreement, Limbaugh -- whose daily show has one of the largest weekday audiences -- made his first on-air comments about their plan.
"We've done this before. We've done amnesty before," said Limbaugh. "This immigration bill that everybody's touting on TV today is essentially the Bush immigration bill that was beat back in 2007."
Limbaugh announced that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla), one of the eight senators driving the new proposal, will be interviewed on his show Tuesday.
Limbaugh on Monday said the bipartisan proposal is the same as in 2007 and in 1986, when Congress passed immigration reform legislation.
"[Ronald] Reagan was not in favor of it, but he bought into it," Limbaugh said. "They promised him, 'If we do this once, that will be the end of it. Once we grant amnesty, that's it. No more of this illegal immigration stuff.'"
Of the new proposal, Limbaugh said, "My guess is that it's gonna sound very close to exactly what we were told in 1986 with the first amnesty."
"The Republican participation in this is taking place largely because they believe if they don't do it, they will never win the presidency again because they will never get Hispanic votes," Limbaugh said. "They have been convinced that Hispanics hate them because of immigration. Now, we know this isn't true. We've seen the data.
"We've seen the academic, scholarly data, and we know that ... 75 percent of Hispanics do not vote for a president based on immigration. It's not their top issue," he said. "The welfare state is. Government as the provider, government as the source of prosperity is the number one issue for Hispanic voters. It isn't immigration."
Limbaugh also said that Republicans "have not said one thing to make anybody think they want Hispanics deported."
"Oh, there have been some people who have held principled positions about the law when it comes to immigration, and Republicans have been penalized for that," he said.
But during the 2012 Republican primary, eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney talked about a policy of "self-deportation," essentially an approach to make life in the U.S. so difficult and unwelcome for undocumented immigrants that they choose to leave.
Even Romney's campaign manager said after the election that he regretted going so far to the right on the issue.
Strident voices on the right have not explicitly suggested deporting an estimated 11 million undocumented U.S. immigrants, focusing instead on building a fence along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border and ignoring the question of what to do with the millions already in the U.S. without documentation. Romney's talk of "self-deportation" marked the first time that a prominent conservative articulated a hard-line, anti-immigration alternative to deporting all undocumented immigrants.
And the GOP's share of the Latino vote in the past three presidential elections has dropped from 40 percent to 44 percent in 2004 for George W. Bush, to 31 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) in 2008, to just 27 percent for Romney in 2012.
Many Republicans have expressed alarm at this dynamic, and have vowed to better include Latinos in their coalitions, and to moderate the party's rhetoric on immigration. Fox News' Sean Hannity said the day after the election in November that he had "evolved" on immigration and no longer favored requiring undocumented immigrants to return to their country of origin.
"We've gotta get rid of the immigration issue altogether," Hannity said. "It's gotta be resolved."
Rubio, 41-year old son of Cuban immigrants, had success earlier this month in courting several high-profile talk radio and cable TV personalities who have in the past taken a hard line on immigration reform. He spoke with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, Fox Business' Lou Dobbs, and talk radio host Mark Levin.
Rubio got plaudits from all three. But Limbaugh is as independent as they come in conservative media, and he pulled few punches in his criticism on Monday. Rubio will try to soften Limbaugh's opposition on Tuesday, but if Rubio is unsuccessful, it could signal trouble for the GOP in controlling unrest on their right flank as the immigration debate heats up.
President Barack Obama will speak about his priorities for an immigration proposal on Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Also on HuffPost:
The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>