"Gang of Hate" graphic courtesy of Carlos Vargas of DRM Action Coalition
While many talk about the 2016 election, a few have seemed to all too quickly forget the lessons the electorate taught its leaders last November: Immigration is a key issue in American politics, and an important part of building a coalition in a country of constantly shifting demographics. Congress' approval rating is still around 16 percent, very close to its recent historical low, largely due to the obstructionist culture, filibuster and harsh rhetoric used to avoid being "primaried" on the right. While senators like John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have shown us more of the same 16 percent, senators like Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have joined Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) in voting to advance immigration reform.
Yesterday we saw the biggest clash between the "Gang of 8" and "Gang of Hate" so far in a 13-5 vote to move immigration reform from the Senate Judiciary Committee to the Senate Floor. The "Gang of Hate" obstructing reform included senators like John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), both of whom come from a 38 percent Latino constituency, as well as Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Michael Lee (R-UT), who all have below average Latino constituencies. In a show of courage, compromise and reasonability, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) stood with the Gang of 8's Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to vote for the bill.
Although immigration advocates would have liked to see the bill pass with Sen. Cornyn's support, getting the bill to proceed through the Senate Judiciary Committee with support from Republicans was a big step. "This gives us a bipartisan head of steam as we move forward in the Senate. The openness of this process and the sheer number of Republican additions to the bill will go a long way on the Senate floor," said Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
Part of the reason why Schumer's quote is so believable are the amendments added in the Judiciary Committee. Amendment after amendment was voted on, ranging from more humane conditions for children in detention to Chuck Grassley's amendment requiring that 90 percent of Mexicans crossing the southern border be caught before we open up a pathway to citizenship. These bipartisan adjustments made this bill reasonable enough to bring Sen. Orrin Hatch on, as well as potentially many more Republicans who will be needed to make the bill law.
Reflecting on the legislation after the amendment process, it is certainly not a perfect bill: For example, the bill does not recognize certain protections for LGBT families and not every member of the immigrant community will qualify. This is disappointing as LGBT groups have formed close alliances with immigration advocates, and this bill is something which LGBT organizers in groups like Get Equal and Out4Immigration have pushed for. As Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning LGBT DREAMer, tweeted earlier Wednesday: "This is not a perfect #immigration bill, it's not an inclusive bill. But we need bipartisan support to move forward--we must move forward."
For many within the Republican Party, this upcoming vote will be a make or break moment in their career: too many of them are facing reelection in 2014 in an unpopular Congress with a weak economy and the GOP is still operating in the shadow of its background check vote.
While individuals such as Pat Toomey (R-PA) have done better because of their vote for background checks, ultimately the blame falls on Republicans for standing against it. This has so tarnished the Republican brand that they need to find redemption, and immigration reform may be their last opportunity before they are either re-elected, or looking for a job on Craigslist.
If the GOP stands squarely in the way of reforming the "broken" immigration system, many political careers will be crushed in the wake of this vote.