The fiscal cliff debate is on hold. Now comes the demographic cliff debate: Immigration.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush hosted a Friday powwow about immigration reform. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and President Obama’s administration leaked details of their plans over the weekend that would give varying degrees of amnesty to those illegally in the country.
And on Monday in Doral, Miami U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen held a forum to gather ideas and, in Diaz-Balart’s words, give them “ammunition” to call on their colleagues to reform immigration..
With the exception of Obama, all are from Florida and are Republicans. Their party’s hard-line immigration stances helped drive Hispanics, the state and nation’s fastest-growing demographic group, to the Democratic Party this last election. Republicans don’t want a repeat in two years.
“Both parties have used immigration as a political wedge issue,” Diaz-Balart said. “The Democrats never wanted to get it done. They wanted to have it as a political issue. It worked very well for them.”
But, Diaz-Balart said, his party isn’t without fault.
“Republicans didn’t want to get it done — leadership — they wanted it as a wedge issue. It has worked poorly for them,” he said.
Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen say this is the year that Congress needs to pass immigration reform. A major fault-line: Whether to give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship or a pathway to residency.
Still, this is the time, Diaz-Balart said because it’s not an election year. So there’s less chance for hyper-partisan politics, Diaz-Balart said. It’s also a new Congress. And Republicans, who blocked major congressional immigration legislation in 2010 and 2006, might be more willing to vote for immigration-reform plans as the lessons of 2012’s elections are still fresh.
Ros-Lehtinen pointed out that Democrats, too, have had problems with their voters when it comes to immigration reform. Labor unions, which tend to support Democrats, have opposed guest-worker immigration programs in the past because they allow for an influx of cheap labor from overseas. Unions now indicate, however, that they’re willing to support a comprehensive immigration package.
But the complexity, the emotions and the host of special interests involved in the immigration debate have paralyzed Congress for years. It’s unclear now if 2013 is any different. The polarized Congress could barely stave off the so-called “fiscal cliff” debt-and-spending controversy last month.
That debate is about to return, which could freeze Congress from doing any other major legislation.
Right now, neither Diaz-Balart, Ros-Lehtinen nor Rubio have produced legislation. They say they’re working on it, trying to gain consensus. They could have bills filed within the next four months.
Rubio, the son of immigrants and one of the most-influential Republican senators, last week released a passel of immigration proposals he’s working on by himself and with others.
“Washington has run away from problems for years and punted them for future generations to solve,” Rubio said. “I’ve disagreed with some ideas offered in past debates and the way the issue’s been handled, so it’s our responsibility to offer solutions that modernize our legal immigration system, strengthen security and enforcement measures, and deal with the undocumented population in a humane way that doesn’t give them a special advantage over immigrants trying to come legally."