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What would comprehensive immigration reform look like if the Feds got off their duffs?

Thursday, Dec 23 2010

Page 4 of 9

Perhaps that's why the ardor for expulsion is not shared by a majority of Americans, almost 80 percent of whom want to see something done to normalize the status of undocumented aliens in the country, according to a New York Times poll last May.

A poll in early November, paid for by America's Voice, came up with similar numbers, including almost 80 percent support for steps that would keep undocumented aliens here by culling out the criminals, making the rest legal, and putting them on the tax rolls — which seems feasible even under laws now in effect. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently announced that her agency removed 392,000 undocumented aliens from the country in fiscal 2010, including a record 195,000 convicted criminals.

The best hope of moderate reformers is that the expulsion issue can be locked up in a congressional stalemate until something happens to make it and its proponents go away, presumably in the election of 2012. That's a lot to hope for.

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These reformers base their Hail Mary hope on a prediction that Republicans, fearful of a backlash in 2012, will muzzle the extremists in their party. Immediately after the midterm election, a number of moderate reform and Latino groups brought out exit-poll data to show that anti-immigrant racism of some Republican campaigns had forged a strong Latino backlash against Republicans. Now Latino leaders are predicting trouble for Republican candidates in 2012, if the GOP stays in step with Smith and King on immigration.

Eliseo Medina, the SEIU's secretary-treasurer and a national figure in the moderate reform movement, is almost exuberant: "The good thing from my point of view," the union leader says, "is that the Steve Kings and the Lamar Smiths, the Tom Tancredos, the Governor Brewers are the very best organizers I could ever hope for.

"They have done what César Chávez and a generation of Latinos could not do. They have, in fact, united the Latino community in this country like nobody ever could."

Even some worried conservative Republicans share this view. Linda Chavez, author, Reagan White House staffer, and Fox TV analyst, says the racist TV ads are pushing away a constituency that would otherwise be valuable to Republicans in 2012 — one that is growing fast in both raw numbers and political engagement. It's a trend that could damage her party in 2012. Chavez says Republicans "are shooting themselves in the foot, because a demographic shift is taking place."

The hope, then, is that Republicans will take a leaf from Mr. Rochester in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and move their troublesome relatives to the attic. But things could go the other way.

A week after exit polls paid for by more moderate immigration-reform-advocacy groups showed strong Latino support for Democrats in the midterm election, other respected national polls showed that Latinos had trended more Republican this year than in the 2008 congressional elections, by as much as 5 percent. So how is that trend supposed to frighten rambunctious Republicans?

In fact, there is enough uncertainty about Latino voters and 2012 to prompt this line of questioning: What if the 2012 election does not fall to the side of moderate reformers? What if it goes the way of Lamar Smith and Steve King? What will the U.S. House look like then?

That's easy. Like Texas.

Whatever the midterm elections did to Washington, multiply by 10 and you'll have a fair guess what Texas will look like when its new legislative members are seated next year in Austin. In the last session, Republicans had a four-vote lead in the 150-member Texas House. Next year their lead will be more than 50 votes, a "super majority" under House rules, meaning Republicans in the Texas House will barely have to say hello to the remaining Democrats, let alone consult them.

On immigration issues, some of the Republicans in the Texas House will make Smith and King look like bow-tie liberals. For example, State Representative Leo Berman, a six-term Republican from Tyler, will be Debbie Riddle's chief rival for immigrant crackdown leader. In fact, he was almost certainly the one she hoped to beat by camping out on the House floor.

Berman and Riddle will competitively push Arizona-like laws to require immigration enforcement by local police, bills to deny citizenship to children of undocumented aliens, bar undocumented aliens access to civil courts, cut off all state funding to cities that fail to expel undocumented aliens, forbid state agencies to provide services to children of undocumented aliens, levying an 8 percent tax on all money sent to Mexico, Central America, or South America, and a law making English the official language of Texas.

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