‘The invisible become visible on May 1’

A May Day Immigration March in 2010
A May Day Immigration March in 2010
Salina Canizales

It’s May Day and that means many Americans across the country can expect to see quite a bit of activism today from those demanding immigration reform. As the Associated Press reported, “Tens of thousands are expected to rally in dozens of cities from New York to Bozeman, Mont., on Wednesday in what has become an annual cry for easing the nation’s immigration laws.”

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, added, “The invisible become visible on May 1.”

But in Washington, uncertainty hangs over the immigration debate. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who helped craft a bipartisan bill on comprehensive reform, said the Gang of Eight proposal “probably can’t pass the House.” Appearing on a conservative radio show, the senator added that his bill “will have to be adjusted,” which may come as a surprise to some of his colleagues, who’ve been cautiously optimistic about the legislation’s chances.

Complicating matters further, Roll Call reports that a House working group tackling immigration policy “is mulling a proposal that involves ‘self-deportation’ as part of a strategy to make a comprehensive overhaul acceptable to conservatives.”

And it’s against this backdrop that McKay Coppins reports that the Republican establishment is actively concerned, not just about pending reform, but about how much damage its activist base will do to the party’s brand during the debate.

[A]s conservative criticism of the reform effort grows louder, many Republican operatives, donors, and consultants are bracing for an outcome that would be even worse, politically, than the demise of the bill: a fierce, national, right-wing backlash that drowns out the GOP’s friendlier voices, dominates Telemundo and Univision, and dashes any hopes the party had of making inroads to the Hispanic electorate by 2016.

“We are really balanced here on a little precipice, and if this, pardon the pun, goes south, we could be in very serious trouble,” said Republican media strategist Paul Wilson, citing the increasingly intense attacks on the immigration bill coming from the right. “If [the legislation] stalls or is killed off by conservatives, we could take the Hispanic community and turn them into the African-American community, where we get 4% on a good day… We could be a lost party for generations.”

The fears are well justified.

By all accounts, House Republicans hope to win the immigration debate by stretching it out as long as possible. If the Senate passes a comprehensive, bipartisan bill, the lower chamber won’t just kill it immediately, but rather, will prolong the process. GOP officials think they can keep this going for months – holding a series of hearings, sending it to a variety of committees, considering elements of the proposal piecemeal, etc.

But party leaders are acutely aware of the dangers of delays – the more time elapses, the more Republican lawmakers and activists are able to say offensive things that defeats the purpose of the underlying work.

This is not speculative; we already have ample evidence. One House Republican recently argued that al Qaeda is training its members to go to Mexico, immigrate to the U.S., and “act like Hispanic [sic] when they are radical Islamists.” Another House Republican recently used the word “wetback,” and had no idea why anyone would consider his choice of words problematic.

The more Republicans drag this process out, the more quotes like these we’ll hear.

Remember, we’re looking at two related-but-distinct tracks here. One is obviously the fate of the reform legislation, which, if killed by the right, will further cement Latino voters’ support for Democrats. The other is the debate around the legislation, which may well be nearly as damaging to the GOP.

The goal for Republican leaders, then, is not just to pass a bill, but to hope it passes quickly. That their own House caucus intends to do the opposite is alarming to the GOP establishment, and for good reason.

'The invisible become visible on May 1'