In response to misleading ads released this week by the Republican National Committee, People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas had the following statement:
What won’t Republicans say to muddy the waters of the immigration debate? This week the Republican National Committee will run ads throughout the Southwest on Spanish-language radio stations that blame Democrats for the House immigration bill that would instantly turn millions of undocumented immigrants into felons. But that’s just blatant distortion. Note to Ken Mehlman, translating a lie into Spanish doesn’t make it true.
The reality is that Senate Democrats and a few Senate Republicans have been working to overcome anti-immigrant hysteria and the draconian, “enforcement-only” bill that Republicans pushed through the House. The bill, which includes the criminalization measures, was supported by 92% of House Republicans and opposed by 78% of House Democrats. In fact, a majority of Democrats in Congress have supported comprehensive immigration reform and related initiatives at every opportunity while a majority of Republicans have opposed them.
Republican leaders are beginning to realize, as poll after poll has shown, that they’re out of step with Americans on immigration reform. But it goes beyond cynical for them to then turn around and attempt to pin their own legislation on Democrats. The idea of criminalizing undocumented immigrants originated in the Bush Justice Department and was put into legislation supported by Republican leaders in the House and Senate.
Democrats in both houses have opposed criminalization at every turn, but a strategic vote by House Democrats apparently provided the pretext for the RNC smear campaign. When House Republicans tried to make their bill less controversial by lowering the proposed criminal offense for being an otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrant from a felony to a misdemeanor, House Democrats successfully resisted. By blocking the amendment Democrats made it more difficult for Republicans to support the bill.
House Republicans went ahead and passed it anyway over the objection of Democrats, and the Republican Senate Majority Leader introduced similar legislation. But now that Republicans are facing a backlash and hundreds of thousands marching in the streets, they’re trying to say it was the Democrats all along who supported criminalization. It’s a nice try, but it’ll take more than a slick ad campaign to convince people that up is down and black is white.
To this day, Republican leaders seek to criminalize the millions of undocumented immigrants who live, work hard, and pay their taxes in our nation’s communities. They used to want to make felons out of them, now they say they should be convicted of misdemeanors. They’re trying to portray this as a sign of their understanding and reasonableness, but the chief author of the House bill tells a different story. On the House floor, Congressman Sensenbrenner worried that a felony offense would provide too many due process rights (i.e. grand jury hearing, trial by jury in district court, and the right to an attorney) and concluded that “more prosecutions are likely to be brought” for misdemeanor offenses.
Despite the ugly tactics being employed by the RNC, comprehensive immigration reform is still alive in the Senate. We call on reasonable senators from both parties to forge ahead. They have made remarkable, bipartisan progress throughout the immigration debate and can still achieve positive, broad, and lasting reform of our broken immigration system. We believe such reform would create a path for hard-working people to earn citizenship, remove barriers that are keeping families apart, protect all workers and their wages, and ultimately contribute to a stronger economy and a safer nation.