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This Week in Immigration Reform: Mudslinging Begins in Earnest

Candidates swear in as United States citizens during a Special Naturalization Ceremony for 30 U.S. citizen candidates in the Cash Room at the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, July 3, 2013

With Congress’ August recess almost afoot, let the mudslinging, trash talking, or whatever you call the dirty work of passing some sort of immigration reform begin. 

Last week, White House spokesman Jay Carney and House Speaker John Boehner sparred over who was more committed to immigration reform,and House Judiciary Subcommittee chair Trey Gowdy called White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer a “self-serving political hack” over his tweeted criticism of Republicans’ approach to a pathway to citizenship. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who voted for S.744, found himself the target of tea party activists hoping to remove him from office because of his support. But by far the worst of the week came from Iowa Rep. Steve King. In a recent interview with Newsmax, King said the following about the undocumented immigrants who would benefit from the DREAM Act:

“Some of them are valedictorians, and their parents brought them in. It wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weighs 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

King’s comments went relatively unnoticed until Tuesday, when they were picked up in the media and Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) addressed his colleague at a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on a pathway to citizenship for DREAM-eligible immigrants, saying “It is offensive. And it is beneath the dignity of this body.” Prominent Republicans like John Boehner and Eric Cantor and other high-profile Republicans connected with immigration like Bob Goodlatte, Trey Gowdy, and Raúl Labrador all denounced his comments.

In addition to reactions from politicians, King’s remarks spurred protests at his office consisting of cantaloupe deliveries, and Sens. Dick Durbin and Tom Harkin to host “a forum for the DREAM Act” in King’s district.  Despite a recent poll from the conservative American Action Network that found 65 percent of King’s district support “an earned pathway to citizenship,” King stood by his comments and is using the response as a fundraising tool

In Tuesday’s hearing it was generally agreed upon that DREAMers, brought here as children, should be eligible for a pathway to citizenship. Republican subcommittee members remain unwilling to consider extending that pathway to the broader swath of undocumented immigrants, the DREAMers’ parents. 

In another House hearing last week, a Homeland Security Subcommittee compared the Senate and House measures on border security. Committee members and witnesses were more supportive of the House’s security bill (H.R.1417) than S.744, which includes the “border surge.”

As reported by the Washington Examiner, “As House Republicans prepare to return to their districts for the August recess, they are bracing themselves for tough questions about immigration reform from their constituents—with little guidance from their conference about how to answer them.” The Washington Post’s Plum Line reports this may have spurred Democrats to co-lead “bipartisan town hall meetings” with their GOP colleagues.

What we are still missing despite all the politicking, though, is a passable-to-both-chambers policy solution.  The House’s timeline looks a little clearer after a Wisconsin town hall meeting where Rep. Paul Ryan pointed to October as the month the House would vote on the collective piecemeal immigration bills. They would include “a border security bill… an interior enforcement bill… the workplace verification and the visa tracking…legal immigration bill for visas, for agricultural workers, for skilled workers…[and] a bill to legalize people who are undocumented.” 

Not all immigration news to come out this week is divisive. On Wednesday, the Evangelical Immigration Table hosted over 300 participants for a day on the Hill and a prayer service, pushing for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

In state and local immigration news, the U.S. Court of Appeals “upheld a lower-court decision to block the ordinance in Farmers Brach, Texas, finding that the law interfered with the federal government’s authority over immigration policy.”  Farmers Branch gained notoriety in 2006, when it began attempts to “[ban] undocumented immigrants from renting” housing in the town.

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