Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami, on Thursday blasted House Speaker John Boehner and other House GOP leaders for not allowing an immigration reform bill to come to the floor for debate and vote.
“I had a meeting with the Republican leadership this morning and I was told that immigration reform will not go forward this year,” Diaz-Balart said in a telephone interview with el Nuevo Herald. “It’s a lost historic opportunity.”
Diaz-Balart, a longtime champion of immigration reform, later criticized the GOP House leadership in a written statement for not moving forward with legalizing the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
“It is highly irresponsible not to deal with the issue,” the Diaz-Balart statement said. “We are in effect abdicating our duty.”
Diaz-Balart’s strong statement lashing out at the GOP congressional leadership contrasted with the South Florida congressman’s usually diplomatic demeanor. But Diaz-Balart said he was upset because he believes legislation to fix the nation’s broken immigration system is necessary.
Also, Boehner’s decision essentially blocks from the House floor bipartisan legislation that Diaz-Balart and other lawmakers had worked on for the last five years. In statements Monday to the Miami Herald editorial board, Diaz-Balart said he planned to tell Boehner at a scheduled meeting Thursday that he had enough votes from Republican and Democratic lawmakers to pass immigration reform in the House.
The Senate approved its version of immigration reform last year, but the move to legalize undocumented immigrants has since stalled in the House.
“I hope that in the near future leadership will reconsider and allow my legislation to come to the floor,” said Diaz-Balart. “I for one am not willing to give up and will continue to work until we can finally fix a broken immigration system that everyone recognizes is dysfunctional.”
Giving up on broad immigration legislation wasn’t a surprise to much of Washington, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said last month that the issue was effectively dead and unlikely to be pursued until after President Barack Obama leaves office. The issue shows the divide in a GOP that is trying to appeal both to Latino voters and business leaders who favor legalization, and to the tea party wing of the party that opposes any mass legalization efforts.
What was surprising was the extend of Diaz-Balart’s disappointment.
“We were sent here by the American people precisely to tackle difficult issues and not to take the easy way out,” Diaz-Balart said. “By blocking reform, whether it was when Nancy Pelosi was speaker or now, we are in effect abdicating our duty. Particularly when we have a president that is willing to unilaterally act through executive action, that he himself has said is legally circumspect, will not provide a long-term solution to our immigration system, and I believe could even make it worse.”
Diaz-Balart gave hints about his frustration on Monday when he spoke to the Herald’s editorial board in Miami. At the time, he requested that his statements on immigration reform be embargoed pending his meeting with Boehner.
At the time, Diaz-Balart said that if the GOP House leadership decided to move immigration reform forward, he was confident he could muster the 218 votes required to pass legislation in the House.
“No matter what it is, you’re not going to get 218 Republicans, which is the magic number, so you need some Democrats who are willing to play ball,” Diaz-Balart said Monday. “What has been elusive is can we get a majority of Republicans with a group of willing Democrats who want to get this thing done?”
Diaz-Balart indicated Monday that he had the necessary “threshold” number of Republicans and Democrats willing to back immigration reform legislation.
Diaz-Balart indicated that telling the House GOP leadership that he had the votes to get a bill passed would be an important element to persuade Boehner to move forward.
“If I didn’t have that, I had nothing to talk to the leadership about,” said Diaz-Balart on Monday. “By Thursday I need to hear we’re moving forward or not. If it’s no, I’m going to be the one announcing it.”
Diaz-Balart said Monday he would express disappointment with the House leadership if they blocked immigration reform “just like I was exceedingly disappointed” at the former Democratic House leadership when they refused to move forward with a prior version of immigration reform.
Meanwhile, Rep. Joe García, a Cuban-American Democrat from Miami, issued a statement also attacking Boehner for blocking immigration reform.
“Speaker John Boehner and the leaders of the Republican Congress have delivered a slap in the face to the Hispanic community, to South Florida families and to the thousands of Americans across our country who are demanding action on comprehensive immigration reform now,” Garcia said. “They have stood in the way of comprehensive immigration reform for far too long.”
Diaz-Balart’s comments brought a reaction from business interests such as the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, which represents specialty crops such as vegetables, citrus, tropical fruits, berries and sugar cane. Like other farm groups, the Maitland, Fla., organization favors revamping the nation’s immigration laws to help provide its growers a stable, legal workforce.
Although the prospects of passing an immigration bill soured in recent weeks, the group – like Diaz-Balart – held out hope. Lisa Lochridge, the group’s director of public affairs, said her organization was “realistic, but hopeful.”
“We didn’t want to let up in our call to Congress because we knew we likely won’t get another chance like this for several years,” she said.
Chris Adams of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.