The Hispanic vote, once elusive but surging in recent elections, still puzzles politicians: Come November, how will the immigration issue affect the Hispanic vote? No doubt, the issue has been a key sticking point in countless congressional discussions this past year, but a lack of consensus and battling proposals among elected officials are impacting the polls and igniting partisan conflicts.
The political jockeying stems from immigration legislation that was approved by both the House and Senate. The versions are markedly different, with the House focusing solely on border security and enforcement, and the Senate adding several controversial provisions, such as proposals for temporary guest workers and so-called "earned" legalization for millions of undocumented workers currently living in the United States.
When several House Republicans, including Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), expressed reservations about the Senate version, and threatened not bringing up the bill for final consideration until those issues were resolved, GOP leaders decided to hold a series of hearings to learn what "regular folks" outside of Washington thought – a move that enraged many Democrats.
Mr. Hastert explained, the "one priority is to secure the border, and right now I haven't heard a lot of pressure to have a path to citizenship."
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), a member of the Armed Services Committee and the Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, and a former Border Patrol chief, calls it political posturing. "Rather than hammering out the details of this long-overdue plan before the elections, they chose to stall by holding 'hearings' on legislation that both chambers of Congress have already passed," Mr. Reyes says.
Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) was equally surprised. "During my seven years in the House, I cannot remember ever holding hearings after a bill passed," says Mr. Gonzalez. "Clearly [the GOP] is delaying progress [on an immigration bill] in the hopes that using immigration to inflame Americans will allow them to retain control of the House in this fall's elections."
Other top Democrats agree, saying the GOP needs to "stop playing politics" with immigration.
"Americans from all walks of life are demanding that Congress put partisan politics aside and approve comprehensive immigration reform now," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told Hispanic Business. "Unfortunately, it seems that the Republican leadership in Congress is more interested in seeking anti-immigrant votes than in going to conference to get a bill done this year. Now is the time for President Bush…to rein in the right wing of his party so we can enact tough, smart, and fair immigration reform."
However, most Republicans – maintaining confidence in their party's strategy – are downplaying the possible electoral impact among the Hispanic constituency on the immigration issue.
"Democrats are trying desperately to nationalize this election, while Republicans are focused on running each race on local issues that matter most district-by district," explains Alejandro Burgos (R-TX), spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the party's chief fundraising committee dedicated to electing Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives. "We recognize that what matters to Miami Hispanics differs from what Hispanics in Albuquerque care about, and only a local strategy can seize on those differences and turn them into Republican votes."
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