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Rep. Luis Gutierrez Headshot

House Republicans: What Happened? You Were Doing So Well

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For months, the anti-immigration policies and rhetoric that threatened the electoral viability of the Republican Party was in remission. From the moment Gov. Romney conceded defeat, sensible Republican leaders admitted they had botched the immigration issue and had appeared to many Americans to both oppose immigration and Latinos. Smart Republicans began to isolate the malignant wing and save the GOP from the opponents of legal immigration who led them down and electoral and demographic cul-de-sac.

Committee Chairmen and Republican Leadership in the House significantly changed their tune for the better and were making serious bipartisan progress to fix our immigration system and heal their party this year. Judiciary Committee hearings had a civil tone for the first time in decades. Serious discussions on immigration reform were informed by credible witnesses who actually wanted to help Congress craft sensible legislation to modernize our immigration system.

Tasked by our leadership, a small group of legislators from both parties was -- and still is -- meeting several times a week to make serious progress towards a solution. The bill we are writing is designed to garner support from a critical mass in each party. That work continues, even with the departure of one of our Republican members who has made, and will make, important contributions toward passing a bill.

I know immigration is a difficult issue for Republicans because so many in their party hold hardened positions that have had tragic political consequences. And I would actually prefer to share the credit with Republicans and reach a solution than to play partisan games and reach an impasse. The Republicans with whom I work regularly -- Judge Carter, Sam Johnson, Mario Diaz-Balart, Raul Labrador -- are some of the smartest and most skillful Republican lawmakers I have ever encountered and Chairman Goodlatte, Chairman Gowdy, Chairman Ryan and others have contributed positively.

When one Republican Congressman recalled on television the "wetbacks" his family employed in the 1940s, Republicans beat Democrats to the microphones to denounce his remarks creating an impressive chorus.

The progress the Republican Party was making was real and I praised it every chance I got with advocates, Democrats, and cynical reporters who said the new tune on immigration and immigrants was not real or would never last.

But over the past week, it seems Republicans are having a relapse. The anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric are metastasizing and causing a substantial case of amnesia about the last election.

Last week, almost every House Republican voted to amend the Homeland Security Appropriations bill to deport undocumented children who grew up in the United States, registered with the government, stayed in school, and passed criminal background checks. More than a rudimentary anti-Obama vote against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, even Republicans who support the DREAM Act felt compelled to support the King Amendment and signal to Republican voters, Latino voters and everyone else that the GOP wants to deport millions of peaceful, productive immigrants who are raising families, pursuing an education, and contributing to the American economy.

What were you thinking? You should know better. I thought you were leaving behind your get-tough-on-immigrants political games and had packed them deep in a storage unit with your "Mitt for President" buttons.

Boldly following Steve King off of an electoral cliff is what got you in an immigration mess in the first place. How quickly you forget how Latino families -- made up mostly of citizens and voters -- react when you threaten to deport their college-bound children.

Now, the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee have introduced a "new" bill, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (H.R. 2278), and they will hold a hearing about it on Thursday. The bill actually recycles many of the malignant proposals contained in the infamous 2005 bill, HR 4437. Among other things in the Republican prescription:

  • Force all state and local police to double as immigration agents and force all police to either enforce federal civil law or face defunding for community safety programs -- so that Latinos and other racial and ethnic groups will think twice before calling the police, thereby harming public safety;
  • Double down on racial profiling legislation that anti-immigration advocacy groups have successfully passed at the state and local levels.

Not weeks after the most notorious immigrant-basher of his generation was slapped down by a federal court for a systematic racial profiling and violating the civil rights of U.S. citizens, House Republicans want to canonize Sheriff Joe Arpaio in legislation.

Do you remember what happened early in 2006 after you passed HR. 4437 in late 2005? Ask Chairman Sensenbrenner why every Hispanic in America seems to know his name. The leaders of the Catholic Church led the backlash to the Republican bill, asking priests and parishioners to engage in civil disobedience if it became law.

What followed were the largest series of peaceful demonstrations in American history when immigrants, labor unions, congregations, and allies by the millions filled America's streets. It led to an unprecedented wave of citizenship and voting among Latino and other pro-immigrant voters who were energized to fight Republican anti-immigrant policies. That November, Republicans lost the House and Senate and they have lost the White House twice since then.

When a Republican Member of Congress uses a term like "wetback," I generally write it off to the insensitivity of individuals of a certain age. But when almost every Republican votes to deport DREAMers and many other sensible Republicans propose the enforcement-only son-of-H.R 4437, I am genuinely offended.

The Republicans I work with on immigration reform are smart, religious, America-loving legislators who want to establish for this nation an immigration system of which they can be rightly proud. I know you are out there. I know you understand this issue better than your recent behavior betrays. I think you can help your party get back on the path to recovery. Your nation, our nation, needs you to step up.