Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration held a hearing about border policy. Its chairman, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has declared 'game on' for immigration reform. This is the same Schumer who was architect of the Democratic takeover of the Senate, who always has his eye on what the party needs to do in order to win. As such, it takes a sledge hammer to the tired conventional wisdom that immigration reform is "too hot to handle," and instead confirms that the time is most certainly now.
President Obama gets it, too, despite some troubling moves that the Administration has been roundly criticized for this week.
The President announced just yesterday that he will host a White House strategy session with Members of Congress during the second week of June and has consistently pledged to get started on immigration reform this year.
Besides being the right thing to do, moving forward on reform is smart politics, plain and simple. Real immigration reform is the key to earning the trust of our nation's fastest growing block of voters - Latinos-- and also to showing moderate and swing voters who are sick of demagoguery on the issue that Washington is stepping up to the plate to solve tough problems.
But while the President and Senator Schumer look to the future, the panel's ranking member, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), was caught facing squarely in the other direction.
Cornyn called talk show host, defeated Congressman, and notorious blowhard J.D. Hayworth to testify as an expert on the border. Until his 2006 defeat, Hayworth was one of the most outspoken immigrant bashers in Congress, whose screeds were parroted on David Duke's blog and cheered by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) - labeled an anti-immigrant hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.Hayworth is indeed the poster child for a politics that has driven Latinos away from the GOP- and that has failed to scare up the support of key swing voters. Even conservatives blame the immigration issue for Hayworth's 2006 loss, according to a study promoted by Linda Chavez:
In Arizona's 5th district, six-term GOP incumbent Rep. J.D. Hayworth actually switched positions on immigration from being a sponsor of guest worker legislation to becoming one of the most outspoken opponents of immigration, even advocating a moratorium on legal immigration from Mexico. In 2004, Hayworth received almost as many Hispanic votes as his Democrat opponent, with each receiving about 48 percent; but in 2006, Hayworth lost 59-36 percent in Hispanic precincts.
This is consistent with what we saw in the 2008 election. As I've consistently chronicled, in 20 out of 22 competitive races during the 2008 cycle, the pro-reform candidate defeated the anti-immigrant hardliner.
What's more, new polling of Hispanic voters in 13 states conducted by Bendixen & Associates found that, by a 71 percent to 11 percent margin, respondents believed that the Democratic Party best represented the opinion of the Hispanic community on immigration issues vs. the Republican Party. Additionally, only 23 percent of respondents in the Bendixen poll thought that Republicans "will do the right thing" on immigration issues, while a whopping 60 percent thought Republicans "will not do the right thing" (17 percent don't know).
This, with Gallup reporting that self-identified Republicans have dropped to a near-historic low of 21% and that the GOP's share of nearly every major demographic subgroup had shrunk since 2001.
Note to Senator Cornyn: step away from the extremist - he is dangerous to your party.
How? In Congress, Rep. Hayworth's extreme views on immigration were so bad that he was the only Member of Congress to object to the draconian "Sensenbrenner" bill in 2006 - a wide-ranging crackdown infamous for its intent to make felons out of both unauthorized immigrants and the religious and service workers who assist them - for not being harsh enough! The "too-soft-for-Hayworth" Sensenbrenner bill is widely seen as the catalyst that spurred millions of people across the nation to pour out in the streets in protest, a tradition that has evolved into the May 1st immigration and workers' rights rallies that we know today.
In fact the momentum created by these events was certainly one force that drove such a high percentage of first-time latino voters to the ballot box last November, flipping four states from red to blue.
Hayworth even published a book during his last Congressional election (did we mention that he lost) entitled, ""Whatever It Takes: Illegal Immigration, Border Security, and the War on Terror." In the notorious manifesto, Hayworth praised the cultural views of notorious anti-Semite, Henry Ford. He also proposed a three-year ban on legal immigration from Mexico. After the book was published, The Forward noted that in his book," Hayworth wrote, 'Talk like that today and our liberal elites will brand you a cultural imperialist, or worse. But if you ask me, Ford had a better idea.'" If you ask just about anyone else, Ford's ideas were extreme for his era, but, in the 21st century, it's hard to find anyone, beside Hayworth and his ilk, who agree them.
Here's the good news: after years of an increasingly acerbic tussle over which politician could be more obnoxious on immigration, the vast majority of voters want a real solution. And Latino voters are sick of being slapped around by the pundit profiteers in Congress and on the airwaves.
The pressure is on the Democrats to deliver progressive and comprehensive immigration reform - and on Republicans to stop the bleeding.
It is time for Congressional Republicans to re-open diplomatic relations with Latino voters and show America that they are interested in real solutions to the very real problems we face.
It can be done and the time is right - let's get on with it.
Note: Cross-posted at www.AmericasVoiceOnline.org/Blog.