Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are far from unified on many important policy issues. First and foremost among these issues is immigration, especially when it comes to creating a workable U.S. policy on a path to citizenship and the treatment of “Dreamers” under the DACA program. And according to the Associated Press, immigration issues are threatening to tear apart the Republican Party.
For many years, and since taking control of the House, Republican policies have been heavily influenced by the right-wing Freedom Caucus, which was formed from the old Tea Party. This group of about 30 hard-liners on immigration have fought hard against a path to citizenship and against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. And up to this point they have prevailed.
But as the GOP majority is held in the balance in this year’s midterm elections, the domination of the Freedom Caucus is now being threatened by about 30 Republican moderates in the House who want their party to liberalize its official positions and policies on immigration.
To say this is a highly-charged issue is an understatement. Many people believe that Donald Trump’s exploitation of the issue is what led to him being elected president. Many also believe that to keep Trump’s base of rabid anti-immigrant supporters fired up to support GOP candidates this fall, the party must hold firm against the moderates who want more open immigration laws.
But moderates don’t see it that way, and they have taken actions in the House that would force Speaker Paul Ryan to hold a vote that he may find embarrassing and that would outrage GOP conservatives. They have launched a petition drive that would force House votes on four immigration bills, and they say they have 23 Republicans willing to support their efforts. They only need two more for their initiative to be successful.
Of the 23 Republicans who have signed the “centrist” petition, nine of them represent districts with Hispanic populations exceeding the 18 percent national average. And Hillary Clinton carried 12 of their districts in 2016, while several of them are from moderate-leaning suburbs of major cities where the electorate is turning more liberal.
The problem that many in the GOP leadership see is that they don’t want a vote that will highlight the lack of unity in their caucus, and upset the right-wingers.
The problem that moderates see is that the conservative positions may cause them to lose their seats in November, giving Democrats control of the House.
One moderate, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, said he has been waiting 18 months for Paul Ryan to make good on his promises that the immigration issue would be addressed.
“He was always telling me, ‘It will happen, it will happen.’ I never saw it happen,” Coffman said. “One cannot argue that those of us who signed onto this discharge petition didn’t give leadership time.”
Republicans know that opinion polls show the vast majority of Americans are in favor of protecting Dreamers from deportation, and the majority of moderates in the GOP caucus represent districts that are heavily Hispanic. The centrists favor legislation that would protect hundreds of thousands of these young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Nearly 70% of Americans are in favor of protecting them from being deported by Trump.
Ryan said he is negotiating with the centrists, and there will be roll calls this summer on the immigration proposals. It is doubtful, however, that the House GOP will come up with a bill that will please conservatives, pass the more moderate U.S. Senate, and then be signed into law by President Trump.
All in all, the immigration issue is a thorn in the side of the entire Republican Party, not just Paul Ryan. Moderates think their actions will save their seats from the Blue Wave coming in November, but only time will tell, and it is doubtful that they will be successful.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.