House GOP Splitting on Immigration Reform

House GOP Splitting on Immigration Reform


An interesting thing happened in Washington, D.C. yesterday when the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on immigration reform: the staunch anti-reform position of House Republicans began to crumble, just a little.

Most notably hyper conservative House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was quoted yesterday afternoon as apparently being in support of a DREAM Act-like piece of legislation during a speech he delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, particularly interesting because he voted against that very piece of legislation three years ago. He said:

“A good place to start is with the kids. One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.”

It was an interesting turn of events, especially given the fact that another faction of the House GOP continued along the hard core, anti-immigration reform road yesterday as well. They characterized a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as “toxic” and “extreme” while questioning San Antonio Mayor and Democratic surrogate for President Obama in the last campaign Julián Castro during the Judiciary Committee hearing.

Representative Robert Goodlatte, the Republican Chair of the House Judiciary Committe, asked if options other than mass deportations and full citizenship would be considered, “Are there options that we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?” This question, along with a statement by Congressman Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) about exploring policy solutions without an insistence on a pathway to citizenship, indicates that the Republicans are attempting to find way toward legalization without full-fledged citizenship.

Essentially, while some notable Republicans, like Arizona Senator John McCain, make the case that the GOP needs to change their stance and rhetoric on immigration reform, only some of the leadership and membership of the right wing is willing to make these changes.

Other conservatives who have previously supported immigration reform, like McCain, are back on the immigration reform bus in recent weeks, too, specifically Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio.

While Cantor’s capitulation is significant, as he is a party leader and voted against the DREAM Act just a few years ago, it’s going to take more House Republicans to pass any kind of comprehensive immigration bill. There’s also room for caution in Cantor’s changing position, however.

Republicans are much more enthusiastic to pass piecemeal reform  — such as the DREAM Act and STEM visas — rather than completely overhaul the system. And even when discussion about comprehensive reform comes up, it takes on the character of enforcement and border security.

And as written previously on Politic365, if Republicans are not able to weave immigration reform (and a more Latino-friendly rhetoric about it) into their platform, they risk losing the Latino voting bloc to Democrats, much as they did the black vote during the civil rights era.