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Politics

South Florida Congressmen Clash on Who to Blame for Immigration Reform's Demise

July 10, 2014 - 6:00pm
With news emerging that immigration reform is dead for 2014, two Hispanics from the South Florida delegation divided on party lines on who is to blame.

While the Gang of Eight, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., helped usher immigration reform through the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, the Republican-led U.S. House never passed it. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refused to bring the measure to the floor as a majority of his caucus was not behind it.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a vocal proponent of immigration reform, was told by the House leadership on Thursday that the matter was done for the year. While he praised the help he got from the other side of the isle, the Florida Republican took shots at the Democratic leadership and President Barack Obama, saying they did little to advance the issue.

From 2009 to 2010, I had been working with a group of bipartisan colleagues to draft immigration reform legislation. Unfortunately, Democratic leadership refused to consider the bill when they had the majority, Diaz-Balart said. During the last year and a half, I have been working nonstop with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to draft legislation that would obtain a majority of the Republicans and a number of the Democrats who are willing to put politics aside and get immigration reform done. In particular, I want to thank Luis Gutierrez for all his help, for his willingness, when necessary, to take on Republicans, Democrats, and the president.

After lots of work and revisions, we finally drafted legislation that could garner the necessary bipartisan support. We learned our lessons from the 1986 amnesty bill and last years Senate bill, and did not repeat their mistakes, Diaz-Balart said, before turning his fire toward Obama. Due to the extraordinary lack of trust in this president, I worked to ensure that the legislation would independently verify and hold this and future presidents accountable for finally securing the borders. The bill is a common-sense solution to illegal immigration that recognizes we are not going to spend tens of billions of dollars to round up and deport millions of undocumented workers who have been here for many years. My solution would require those who came here illegally to earn legal status, earn their right to remain here, and demonstrate their commitment to the United States. It is an efficient and effective approach that is good for the American economy and fair to the people who came here legally.

Diaz-Balart praised Boehner, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for their help but said Obama blocked progress on the issue because Republicans in Congress had learned not to trust him. The congressman also noted that when Democrats had control of both the Senate and the House under Obama, they did not press the matter.

This system is not going to fix itself, and delaying a common-sense solution is only going to make matters worse, as is evident by what is going on today with the crisis on the southern border, Diaz-Balart insisted. It is highly irresponsible not to deal with the issue. I know it is difficult, especially when you have a president that failed to build the trust of the American people or the U.S. Congress, and who has done little to enforce current law, despite his assertions to the contrary. But we were sent here by the American people precisely to tackle difficult issues and not to take the easy way out. By blocking reform, whether it was when Nancy Pelosi was speaker or now, we are in effect abdicating our duty. Particularly when we have a president that is willing to unilaterally act through executive action, that he himself has said is legally circumspect, will not provide a long-term solution to our immigration system, and I believe could even make it worse.

I hope that in the near future, leadership will reconsider and allow my legislation to come to the floor. I, for one, am not willing to give up and will continue to work until we can finally fix a broken immigration system that everyone recognizes is dysfunctional, Diaz-Balart said in conclusion. I want to make it clear that I am ready to proceed at any time.

But U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., fired back that Republicans were to blame for immigration reform stalling in the House.

Speaker John Boehner and the leaders of the Republican Congress have delivered a slap in the face to the Hispanic community, to South Florida families and to thousands of Americans across our country who are demanding action on comprehensive immigration reform now, Garcia said on Thursday. They have stood in the way of comprehensive immigration reform for far too long. Enough is enough. We must continue to push forward and refuse to allow the dysfunctional, partisan politics of a few in Washington to stand in the way of what the American people have asked for and deserve comprehensive immigration reform that reflects our nations diverse and vast human landscape.

Garcia doubled down on that message on Friday when he urged supporters to petition Congress on the matter.

The GOP leadership showed its true colors, Garcia insisted. The Hispanic community and anyone who supports the human rights of immigrants should be outraged by the GOP's inaction over the past two years.

In a poll out Wednesday, 80 percent of American voters said they want Congress to act on immigration reform this year, Garcia added. The people have been clear on this the time to act is now. If Republican leadership isn't willing to listen to the vast majority of people, so they can appease their increasingly extreme base, it's time to replace them!

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

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