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Miami Herald - Fabiola Santiago: On Immigration, GOP Back to Ugly Ways

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By Fabiola Santiago

Sounds like many Republicans in Congress no longer remember they lost the presidential election.

Judging by their comments in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday on a bipartisan immigration reform proposal, the Republicans are back on the anti-immigrant ugly mode of recent years.

It was only a first look at the bill hammered out by the so-called "Gang of Eight," but already they're on the old no-amnesty, more-border-security warpath.

No matter that the U.S. government spends $18.5 billion a year on border enforcement, and that the record number of deportations by the Obama administration, coupled with other factors, amounted to negative immigration growth last year.

Nothing matters.

It's the same attitude that quashed various incarnations of the Dream Act, forcing President Obama to issue an executive order to keep the good young people who would have benefitted from this legislation from being deported.

The Republicans couldn't have come up with a better strategy to help their opponent, who showed leadership and became a hero to many voters by sparing worthy youth who feel American and have lived here most of their lives but were brought to this country by parents who overstayed visas or crossed the border.

It's the same attitude that brought about the unforgettable "self-deport" proposal from the Republican presidential candidate, and made it possible for the rank and file at the GOP's national convention to display boorish behavior when the Republican committeewoman from Puerto Rico walked up to the podium.

But that's all history.

This time the anti-immigrant attitude comes camouflaged as concern for the bombings in Boston, thus injecting poison on the new American wound.

The ranking Republican in the committee, Charles E. Grassley from Iowa, said the immigration reform plan, agreed to after months of negotiations, needed to be scrutinized "particularly in light of all that's happening in Massachusetts right now and over the last week."

And in a letter to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky reaches so many wrong conclusions from the sparse Boston facts as to be offensive.

In his world, any would-be immigrant is a terrorism suspect. Someone should remind Paul that some of the most horrific mass murderers in recent times have been native-born, white Christians.

The Boston bombers are Islamic ethnic Chechens, but they came to this country as children with legal refugee status and I doubt that any national registry system would have picked up their radical leanings as youngsters. More likely, the anti-immigrant vitriol so prevalent in recent years in the country where they grew up could have affected them.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, had it right when he chastised the Republican senators: "Let no one be so cruel as to try to use the heinous acts of these two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hard-working people."

And how particularly ugly that Texas' Ted Cruz (real name Rafael Edward Cruz), the Canada-born son of a Cuban immigrant father, would be so staunchly against giving immigrants a path to citizenship, favoring party over people.

"I don't think that there is any issue in this entire debate that is more divisive than a path to citizenship for those who are here illegally," Cruz said at the hearing Monday. "In my view, any bill that insists upon that jeopardizes the likelihood of passing any immigration reform bill."

Cruz was saying what Republicans are dreading: The only reason they're against citizenship is the fear that all those Latin Americans will register and vote Democrat after they become citizens.

But how does he think people like his father adjusted their refugee "parole" status in this country and became a prosperous, contributing group? It's called the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, and it offered a pathway to citizenship. Otherwise it would have left us as country-less second-class residents. The Cuban-American vote helped put George W. Bush in office, but hey, the country survived it, didn't we? It's called democracy.

"In the end, the more pragmatic leaders of the Republican Party will prevail," Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat, told me Tuesday, with more confidence than I could muster after the hearing. "This is the will of the majority of the country."

About the plan backed by Miami's Republican congressmen Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the eight authors, García added: "Is it perfect? No, but this is a good bipartisan proposal, and as we move forward, we'll get closer to perfection. We're going to have a very strong debate, but we're not going to be the victims of fear. This is about creating a diverse and dynamic society."

It's not far-fetched to think that if Republicans don't stop catering to the extreme right and xenophobic in their ranks, they may be doomed to become a minority party.

People do remember and vote accordingly.

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