As the vote on immigration nears, unsurprisingly the spotlight has been become brighter and the debate more intense. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the highest profile conservative in the Gang of 8, has had a dramatic new opponent in his former close ally Jim DeMint, head of the Heritage Foundation. Meanwhile, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) have been spearheading an attempt to try to drown the bill in amendments. All of this shows a conservative side of politics deeply divided over the immigration issue, ready to split old coalitions and, hopefully, create new ones to elect leaders who will lead in 2014.
The last time the Heritage Foundation came out with a report in 2007, it was thoroughly debunked as being transparently wrong, or, as the conservative Cato Institute put it, “fatally flawed.” The Heritage Foundation outdid themselves, finding Jason Richwine to help with this year’s study. Richwine is known for the following quote from his Harvard dissertation:
“The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations. The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market. Selecting high-IQ immigrants would ameliorate these problems in the U.S., while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.”
Trust me, he goes on. This attitude, blocking immigration from certain countries to create a more intelligent America, fits into society somewhere between Rep. Young casually dropping “wetback” in an interview and the Eugenics movement: it is an ugly throwback to a time where overt, institutionalized racism was sometimes justified by phrenology or other pseudoscientific means to keep entire races of people down. The Heritage Foundation, however, backed Richwine and his contribution to their recent study, up until they changed their minds and released statements distancing themselves from him.
Marco Rubio called the report “deeply flawed”; Grover Norquist, who worked with Heritage in the past to put together his famous tax pledge, dismissed it by saying it was “done by one guy”; Haley Barbour (former Mississippi Gov.), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the Cato Institute and Paul Ryan (R-WI) have all criticized the study as being unrealistic and inflated, and this is just a short list of conservatives.
While the report may still be cited in part, it seems that it was too politically ambitious, and will ultimately fall by the wayside in this debate.
While the Heritage Foundation joins other outside groups such as the ICE union in unrealistically opposing immigration reform, Senators Sessions and Grassley are trying to kill or severely weaken the bill in committee with amendments; between the two of them, they have put up over 100 amendments to the Gang of 8 bill.
Earlier today at the Senate Judiciary Committee where Senators debated amendments for the bill, Sessions assured the public that Lindsay Graham (R-SC) didn’t mean to slander Mexico when he said that many Mexicans were escaping “hellholes” to come to the U.S. While certainly a bit ugly, this was nowhere near the most anti-immigrant statement made by the Senate Judiciary Committee. For example, John Cornyn (R-TX) said that ICE agents claim 3 out of 4 border crossings went undetected. For starters, bringing the ICE union into the discussions on our broken immigration system is like bringing a crack dealer to a drug intervention. Further, Cornyn had to be corrected by Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), who then cited research studies and reminded Cornyn that his stories were just anecdotes that anyone could say.
Chuck Grassley’s amendment to require that the border be “secure” for 6 months as a “trigger” to begin changing the legal status of undocumented immigrants was defeated, with senators like Chuck Schumer saying that it was a delay tactic. While the back and forth was uncomfortable, it didn’t get as bad as Grassley screaming at Schumer like before.
There are certainly symbolic and/or humanitarian amendments up for debate, such as Grassley’s to block humanitarian travel home; many a DREAMer has painfully shared a story of a dying grandparent they were not able to visit. The real battle, however, will be on issues such as how much we will spend on the border, whether gay marriage will be recognized in the bill and whether or not we offer citizenship to undocumented immigrants. All of these issues implicate sensitive racial issues and security, so we can expect the fringes to be extra fringe-y.
The Senators are getting to the heart of the immigration debate, where every point will be discussed and then be lit aflame on Twitter, MSNBC, Fox News and other media outlets, all ready to fire up those on the fringes. Between outside groups, gay marriage, citizenship and border security, we can expect the debate to get heated and Senators to get ugly again some time soon. All of this could create a serious shakeup in the Republican Party, as well as conservative politics in general, that won’t be evident until 2014 when people vote based on this and the gun debate.