By Jose Antonia Tijerino
President and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation
When Republican Mel Martinez abruptly resigned from his position as Chair of the RNC and subsequently his seat in the Senate in 2007, many speculated it was over the tone of the immigration debate inside the GOP. "I believe that not to play this card right would be the destruction of our party," Martinez boldly said at the time.
Fast forward to 2014 ... and the internal Republican debate over immigration reform rages on. Except now it's Senator Marco Rubio who has been treated like an outsider inside his own party after leading the Gang of Eight to pass a Senate immigration reform bill early last summer.
So the question as we start a fresh new year is which courageous Republicans in the House will step up and champion immigration reform in 2014 at great political risk in doing the right thing for America?
Well, over two dozen Republican Congressional Members have publicly supported immigration reform over the past year, so that's a start. And doing quick math, it will take 218 votes to pass a bill in the House, and if about 200 Democrats support the effort, which they will, you only need the couple dozen Republicans I just mentioned to make history and help their party by mending the fractured relationship with Latinos and Asians, who represent an attractive voting bloc going forward. Yes, it's doable. As we begin 2014 we should do so with great optimism, especially if at this point both sides of Congress work together to present House Speaker John Boehner with a bill he can get behind, as he did with the budget bill a month ago when he acted like a man thinking about his legacy as he winds down a bumpy tenure as leader. The time is now -- ahorra -- to get something done. If it doesn't happen in by first quarter, members will be in election cycle, and it will not happen. We are counting on the leadership of certain Republicans to pass immigration reform.
Leaders such as Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has said, "I'm in favor of a citizenship path," and hasn't backed off that statement. Proving her stance is not just talk as the first Latina Congressional Representative in American history, she has a longstanding record on immigration including support of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) led by former Republican Representative Lincoln Diaz Balart, also from Florida, who also pushed for the Dream Act with Ros-Lehtinen, who also co-sponsored the bill. In addition, Ros-Lehtinen worked to provide Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for U.S. residents from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti and other nations and recently drafted a bipartisan Congressional letter requested Department of Homeland Security to offer TPS to nationals of the Philippines who are victims of the devastating typhoon. Over the summer, she was also one of six Republicans to vote thumbs-down against Steve King's amendment to the Department of Homeland Security bill which would bloc funding to implement DACA. She even visited the Fast For Families tent in support of the spiritual movement to push for immigration reform.
It will take leaders such as Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart who has worked tirelessly on the issue over the years including with the bipartisan group Gang of Seven -- which dissolved after all of the Republicans except for him left. Diaz-Balart has not been afraid to take a stand on immigration with his party and continues to support a pathway to citizenship and voted for the Dream Act. Diaz-Balart understands how critical it is to meet with Democrats and community stakeholders to find the best way forward in passing immigration reform.
Fortunately, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart are not alone in the House. Sam Johnson (TX), John Carter (TX), Jeff Denham (CA), David Valadao (CA), and others should be countable for a vote if an immigration bill is proposed with House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte of Virginia saying recently that Republican reps continue to work "behind the scenes" in trying to pass an immigration reform bill. Add California's Darrell Issa who poignantly said, "I think all of us Republicans know that we don't want a class of residents that will never be offered an opportunity for citizenship. We're the party of Lincoln, and the party of Lincoln would not accept people living in our country and not being citizens, or not being given the opportunity to become citizens."
Then there are the numbers ... yes, the burgeoning population of Latino, Asian and other groups who have an emotional investment in immigration reform. Even among the general public, support for immigration reform is palpable -- according to the Pew Hispanic Center survey, 71 percent of Americans support undocumented immigrants remaining in the US if they meet certain requirements while only 27 percent say they should not. And in terms of the Republican Party turning the corner with an elusive voting bloc which greatly influenced the last presidential election, a poll by Latino Decisions, which studies Latino voting trends, found that of the Latino voters who voted in the last mid-term elections, nearly 40 percent stated they would vote for Republican candidates if the Representative would play a role in passing an immigration reform which included a path to citizenship.
Legendary Republican President Theodore Roosevelt who is not only on Mount Rushmore but inspired the Teddy Bear once said, "We should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin." How would he have voted on immigration reform? Would he have waivered at the sight of detractors? No! He would have saddled up with the Rough Riders and taken Capitol Hill like he took San Juan Hill. Now, America needs a group of courageous Republicans in the House to also saddle up and help push through an immigration bill in 2014.