The three in 2010 accounted for the eight Republican House votes in favor of the DREAM Act, which provides a citizenship path for certain students and military-bound younger people. The act failed in the Senate amid strong Republican opposition.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, a Coral Gables resident who co-wrote the just published “Immigration Wars” policy book, said he’s “not surprised” that Diaz-Balart is in this role.
“Mario is a connector,” Bush said. “When I was governor, and he was a legislator, and I had something big to do, he was always at the top of the list. He’s not confrontational. He is smart, but he listens well. He shares credit. He’s not grandstanding.”
But Diaz-Balart has his critics, particularly on the right. Some conservatives fret about the “amnesty” of legalizing the status of so many illegally in the country.
To those Republicans, newly elected tea party Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador — also an immigration working-group member — might have more sway, either to attract their votes or mute their criticisms.
But Diaz-Balart, particularly in English-speaking media, makes it clear he’s no liberal. He often speaks forcefully about border-security and ensuring that those seeking legalized status pay fines and serve a prolonged probation-like period to wait their turn.
“We need to lower the rhetoric,” Diaz-Balart said Friday at the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network’s conference in Coral Gables.
“Lower the decibels,” he said.
About the same time, though, some congressional Republicans were already linking the immigration bill with last week’s Boston Marathon terror attacks, likely committed by two legal immigrants.
Diaz-Balart said it was too early to link the issues, but he pointed out that the crime occurred amid the current immigration system.
And beyond the policy, there still stand the politics.
The non-Hispanic white vote — the GOP’s base — is proportionately shrinking as the Hispanic vote is growing overall. Hispanics are also trending more Democrat because GOP rhetoric has sometimes sounded offensive and the party has come across as too-often opposed to immigration reform law.
“Both parties have used immigration as a political tool,” Diaz-Balart said. “The difference is: It has worked for Democrats as a wedge. For Republicans, immigration has been suicide.”