This is what I’ve learned in three decades of covering the immigration debate, not from Washington or New York but from the high-stakes table: the American Southwest.
We already know who Republicans are. They shun the stranger as part of their mission to convert America into the world’s largest exclusive country club. They don’t hide their know-nothing ways. They advertise them to excite their base.
It is Democrats who need to be exposed, once and for all, as the underhanded frauds they are.
It’s not that Democrats can’t update an immigration system that everyone agrees is outdated, ineffective, and unfair. It’s that they don’t want to. It’s that simple. They’d rather stall, and waste time and raise people’s hopes with legislative hocus-pocus like their recent attempts to get immigration reform past the Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough.
On Tuesday, Dick Durbin said that Senate Democrats are currently proposing an alternative plan — a plan B, if you will — to MacDonough, who will ultimately decide whether Democrats can shove an immigration overall into the $3.5 trillion infrastructure spending bill they are aiming to pass on a party-line vote.
Democrats previously tried to slip a plan into the spending bill that would have provided 8 million green cards for undocumented immigrants. But MacDonough shot down that idea, arguing that the Democratic maneuver didn’t have enough to do with spending and that it would create a whole new immigration system. Thus, she ruled, the plan did not comply with the rules for reconciliation—the budget process that Democrats are using to bypass the filibuster in the Senate.
Now, according to Durbin, part of the new pitch to MacDonough is to change the registry date for certain categories of undocumented immigrants, which would essentially limit the number of people who would gain legal status. We’ll see what the parliamentarian says about that.
The Illinois senator isn’t a bad guy. But he’s a Democrat first and an immigrant advocate second. So he won’t do anything to put his colleagues who face tight re-election campaigns in the tough spot of having to vote for an immigration reform plan that would ignite the angry nativist mob.
At the top of the list of endangered immigrants are two senators who are up for re-election in 2022. Both are from the Southwest, where tempers flare when the conversation turns to immigration: Mark Kelly of Arizona and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada. Don’t expect their Democratic colleagues to put an immigration bill within 100 miles of either of them.
Democrats whine that they don’t have the votes to deliver on their promise of immigration reform. They blame everyone and everything in sight.
It’s the fault of the filibuster, they say, blaming that procedural device in the Senate that a minority can use to indefinitely delay the end of debate on legislation unless it is overcome by 60 votes.
Today, there are 48 Democrats in the Senate and two independents who caucus with Democrats. Past immigration bills have garnered support from five or six moderate Republicans. However, those bills have also lost the support of a few Democrats who got cold feet about the legalization provisions and didn’t want to be tagged as having voted for “amnesty." Add it up, and that doesn’t get you anywhere near 60 votes.
It’s the fault of the Republican Party, Democrats insist, because not enough Republicans are willing to defect to support immigration reform even though their benefactors in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce want it done.
And if MacDonough strikes down their Plan B, Democrats will have a new villain to blame: the supposedly all-powerful Senate parliamentarian.
Maybe Democrats have the votes to pass immigration reform on the natural and without the gimmicks. Maybe they don’t. It depends on how badly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer want to get it done, and how much arm-twisting is involved.
We’ll never know. Because what is clear is that Democrats don’t have the will to give it a try — especially if it puts competitive seats in jeopardy.
In Spanish, we say “No tienen ganas.”
Democrats don’t have the appetite to improve the lives of millions of hardworking people who contribute every day to a country that treats the indispensable as if they were invisible.
But they do have at least two things going for them.
The first blessing is called Republicans. The only time Republicans seem to be able to shoot straight on immigration is when they’re shooting themselves in both feet.
The second is a Democratic base that is compliant and easily fooled. They buy whatever excuses are thrown their way.
You know who is not so easily fooled? Immigrants. More and more of them are figuring out that Democrats are not their amigos.
I used to have conversations with a so-called “mixed status” family in Phoenix. They would ask me to explain the politics of immigration reform, and why Congress was unable to get it done.
The parents were undocumented Mexican immigrants who had, many years earlier, overstayed their tourist visas. They owned a business, where they worked long hours for seven days a week and paid more than their fair share of taxes. Their youngest daughter was born in the United States and had all the rights and privileges that go to other U.S. citizens. But their eldest son had been born in Mexico and he didn’t learn that he was undocumented until he graduated from high school with honors and tried to apply for financial aid. It was the family heartache, the fact the clock was ticking and there was no cavalry in sight.
One day, the mother asked me in Spanish: “What’s the holdup? Why can’t Democrats get this done?”
I explained to her that a major stumbling block was the Democrats’ insistence that any comprehensive immigration reform bill include a direct path to citizenship because that meant more future voters for them. That was also why the measure was opposed by Republicans who feared that undocumented immigrants, once legalized, would give them the spanking at the ballot box that they so richly deserved for years of mistreatment.
The woman shook her head and put her head in her hands on her face. After a few seconds, she put down her hands and said: “Are you kidding? That’s what this has all been about? Voting? We don’t care about the right to vote. We just want not to worry about being deported, and for our son to be able to go to college? That’s no reason to hold up everything.”
Are we done playing games? Because the lives of millions of hardworking U.S. residents are on “pause,” and they’d like to get on with them.
Democrats run both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. They have the power to help improve the lot of many of these people. So far they haven’t had the will. They need to find it. Fast.