The Wedge Issue That Wasn’t

The Wedge Issue That Wasn’t


Call it the “Yes, That Too is About Immigration” platform.

For the past two years, House Republicans jockeying for support at the ballot box have worked strenuously to knit the issue of immigration into seemingly every issue that reaches the floor. A federal housing bill? Mortgage reform? Native American housing assistance? All bills vitally linked to illegal immigrants, says the GOP.

Chief among the GOP’s tools is the motion to recommit, by which a minority member can propose a last-minute amendment to a bill during the final floor vote–which, if rejected, effectively kills the entire legislation. Often, the GOP’s amendments have simply reiterated immigration laws that are already exist (for example, by inserting redundant language stressing undocumented immigrants’ ineligibility for public housing). But in using the maneuver, says Marshall Fitz, advocacy director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, House Republicans are “forcing Democrats to take tough votes that divide or embarrass the party,” all while throwing political red meat to party conservatives.

A nifty set of tricks, but so far, the immigration-as-wedge tactic hasn’t proved terribly effective. In 2006, harsh restrictionist House Republicans like J.D. Hayworth were trounced. Last year, state elections in Virginia and New York–where controversy over issues like drivers’ licenses for immigrants became something of a fury–similarly failed to deliver electoral returns for the GOP.

And yet House Republicans still don’t seem inclined to give up the game. Even with the much-touted bipartisan nature of the House’s January stimulus package, Republicans didn’t pass up the chance to needle Democrats about illegal immigrants being eligible for tax rebates. (They weren’t.)

But any way you slice the potential short-term House dividends, alienating a Latino electorate that’s grown by 2 million in the past three years alone–particularly in key swing states like New Mexico and Ohio–is a terrible, no-good, very bad political strategy. No wonder Bush and Rove have taken a more conciliatory approach to the issue. And if McCain has any hope of redeeming his party’s prospects this fall, so will he.

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