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Conservative Opposition To Immigration Reform Driven By Lack Of Trust

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WASHINGTON -- The official line from conservatives who oppose the immigration reform bill is that it will cost too much money.

The real reason is a total lack of trust.

According to many conservatives, the GOP's Washington establishment is selling its soul over immigration, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) just wants to be president, President Barack Obama won't uphold the law, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is looking to pad the Democratic voter rolls, and Latinos will still take government handouts and vote for the Democrats.

There are, to be sure, substantive policy concerns about the details of the Senate "gang of eight" bill. And some opponents may simply be playing to type to maintain their conservative credibility. Others want to prevent the bipartisan legislation from moving to the left. But these five objections the right has articulated suggest that some think the best outcome may be no bill at all:

1. Republicans on Capitol Hill just want to make a deal, so they'll take anything.

"My concern is that politically right now there is so much pressure on Republicans to essentially go along with anything when it comes to an immigration plan, whether it's one that makes sense or one that doesn't, just for the future of the party," said Ben Domenech, a fellow at the Heartland Institute, while interviewing Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint. "That pressure is being brought in a huge way."

After interviewing Rubio on his radio program Thursday, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said, "Most of the Republican Party is motivated totally only by politics. They're buying hook, line and sinker -- from the Democrats and the media -- 'You guys better reach out to Hispanics or you're never gonna win anything! You better make the Hispanics like you.'"

2. Marco Rubio just wants to be president.

"He says that he's not motivated politically, and that's fine," Limbaugh remarked Thursday, and then chuckled. Limbaugh clearly didn't believe Rubio's protestations that he is not thinking about running for president in 2016. Nobody does.

"Obviously he has a lot of personal interest in this thing," said DeMint, the former South Carolina senator whose endorsement of Rubio in the 2010 GOP primary helped to get the 41-year-old Floridian elected.

It's notable that Limbaugh, Mark Levin and others in the conservative talk radio world have remained friendly toward Rubio overall. Perhaps their admiration for Rubio will keep them from slamming the bill with the same vehemence and frequency as they did the 2007 effort, and that might make the difference between a tough road to passage and outright failure. Yet even if the right thinks highly of Rubio, some also think the senator's ambition is being manipulated by Schumer -- like Rubio, a member of the Senate "gang of eight" that negotiated a bipartisan bill.

"Schumer managed to hold Rubio and win his grudging respect, while selling him a lopsided deal," wrote National Review editor Rich Lowry. "Rubio traded amnesty -- although he refuses to call it that -- for an enforcement plan and a commission to be named later."

3. President Obama won't enforce the parts of the law that are important to conservatives.

"I don't know how we get anything good dealing with the president we have," Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said this past week. "This is not a legislative problem. This is a problem with an executive who has defied his own oath of office and will not enforce the law."

The Obama administration is officially deporting more undocumented immigrants than the George W. Bush administration did, but the story behind those numbers actually shows less vigorous enforcement, according to anti-immigration groups, Republican congressmen, and a union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who said the administration is "manipulating arrest and deportation data."

Limbaugh claims that if the immigration bill were to pass, Democrats would then try to give the newly legalized immigrants the right to vote.

"Within two months, Senator Schumer and the Democrats are gonna run to the microphones and cameras and they're gonna start tugging at people's heartstrings by saying, 'How in the world can we be so cruel as to not let them vote? We've just legalized them. We've just welcomed them to our country. We've just created a pathway to citizenship for them. They are paying taxes, and they're working. It's unconscionable that they can't vote.' And, voila! They'll be able to vote," Limbaugh said.

Currently, only U.S. citizens -- and not legal non-citizen residents -- can vote in federal elections.

4. Chuck Schumer is using Rubio to gain the Democratic Party millions of new voters.

"The only thing the other side wants out of this is they want citizens, voters and union members, and they're not trying to help you with those things to fix our system and keep this happening again," DeMint said.

DeMint contends that Latinos who are U.S. citizens, and therefore can vote, don't care that much about the immigration issue.

"It's naïve for Republicans to think that if they pass this big amnesty bill, that it's going to win the votes for them from Hispanics. That's not why Hispanics didn't vote for us. Immigration reform is a very low priority for naturalized American citizens, for Hispanic Americans. What they want are jobs and opportunities," DeMint said.

Of course, Republicans in favor of reform are not saying that passing a bill will automatically win the party Latino votes. The argument is simply that it will gain the party a fresh hearing with Latino voters, who have heard the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from Republicans during past immigration debates.

DeMint agreed that Hispanic voters "don't believe Republicans care about them." But he said he thinks that conservatives can change that perception without an immigration bill.

"The Democrat Party, the Obama machine, has done a good job community-organizing, getting people registered to vote, getting them out to vote, and just showing up in their communities. That's what we're going to do at Heritage," DeMint said. "We're going to lead the conservative movement to show up, to be a part of the communities, to focus on those issues that are why people came here in the first place: jobs and opportunities, a better quality of life."

Showing up is always good, but explaining opposition to immigration reform within any Latino community is far easier said than done.

5. Latinos will only vote for Democrats, and they will overburden the social safety net.

"So many people are scared to death, Senator, that the Republican Party is committing suicide, that we're going to end up legalizing 9 million automatic Democrat voters, and that's why the Democrats are so adamant," Limbaugh told Rubio.

Despite the fact that the Senate bill would not give federal benefits to immigrants during a probationary period of several years, Limbaugh also suggested that most Latinos will become a burden on American taxpayers because they don't really believe in prosperity through self-reliance and free markets.

"I see polling data again that suggests that 70 percent of the Hispanic population in the country believes that government is the primary source of prosperity. I don't, therefore, understand this contention that Hispanics are conservatives-in-waiting," Limbaugh said. "If everything you do is 'outreach' to Hispanics, how do you ever tell 'em no? If the objective is to make Hispanics like you and you turn yourself into Santa Claus, then how do you turn yourself into Scrooge someday when you have to? You can't."

Rubio's argument to his fellow conservatives is that the millions of undocumented immigrants are individuals, not a monolithic bloc, who can be persuaded; that Latinos, by and large, share many convictions with American conservatives; and that the GOP should help fix the immigration problem and then robustly make its case to this group in the belief that its ideas have merit and appeal.

"I'm not prepared to admit that somehow there's this entire population of people that, because of their heritage, are not willing to listen to our pitch on why limited government is better," Rubio told Limbaugh. "I just refuse to accept the notion that somehow we're not gonna be able to make that argument successfully to Hispanics."

Limbaugh was not convinced, but he seemed to sound a note of discouragement about the chances of defeating an immigration reform bill.

"The forces arrayed to oppose this on ideological grounds seem to be vastly outnumbered and overwhelmed. The fact that what happened to California could happen to the country doesn't seem to matter to a lot of people," Limbaugh said.

Similarly, King told HuffPost that currently there are not enough votes in the House to defeat an immigration bill.

"They're not here yet," King said. "The American people need to wake up to what's going on."

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