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Parties Wrestle for Control of Immigration Narrative Before Obama’s Address

"I hope no one uses the term illegal immigrants here," Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said at the outset of a Judiciary Committee hearing.

by
Bridget Johnson

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February 6, 2013 - 7:12 pm
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For a week so steeped in budget drama — from dueling deals to stop sequestration to the Postal Service’s move to stamp out Saturday delivery — and national security, from drones to nominees to Benghazi testimony, immigration reform proponents continue a strong, quiet push from both sides of the aisle.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was sent to the border. White House, DHS, and Justice Department officials met today with law enforcement officials, including L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca and former NYPD/LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, “to discuss the need for common sense reform to fix our nation’s broken immigration system.” And Organizing for Action rolled out a lobbying email featuring the story of an illegal immigrant and encouraging others to share their stories at BarackObama.com — minimum 20 words required.

“Millions of undocumented immigrants like me live in fear of being deported permanently to a country we may have never even visited. Our entire lives could be erased,” read the email signed by Jose Magana, who says he got deferred action under the directive Obama ordered last year to circumvent Congress’ failure to pass a DREAM Act.

It’s paving the path to President Obama’s State of the Union speech next Tuesday, where he’ll have the stage to claim agreed principles achieved in bipartisan congressional negotiations as his own and spin immigration reform into a legacy issue. Senators involved in the talks took the wind out of Obama’s last immigration speech in Las Vegas when they announced their framework the day before his trip.

And Democrats won’t be the only ones angling to use immigration reform to their advantage as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would deliver the GOP response to the State of the Union — in English and Spanish.

“Marco’s own experience as the child of immigrants has always informed his belief in limited government and free enterprise, which is why he has helped lead the fight against out-of-control spending and job-destroying tax hikes that continue to hold our economy back and stifle opportunity for millions,” McConnell said.

Even Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) gave a nod to immigration reform in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday, perking the ears of media who framed his message as, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, “a kinder, gentler House Republican agenda.”

“While we are a nation that allows anyone to start anew, we are also a nation of laws, and that’s what makes tackling the issue of immigration reform so difficult,” Cantor said. But “one of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.”

Caucus members were also doing their part to try to make immigration a winning issue for the Republican Party.

“I represent a conservative district and I approached this issue with them last week. Would you be open to a path to legal status, whether that be citizenship or something else, and I was shocked — meeting with some of the most conservative folks in my district,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said on CNN. “And they said if you can secure the border, give us employment verification, and guarantee that we don’t have to go through this conversation again, we’ll be open to it.”

After a Republican conference meeting Tuesday, Boehner said he would “applaud my colleagues on both sides of the Capitol and in both parties who’ve worked together to try to solve one of the bigger issues that we’re dealing with in our country, and that’s the issue of immigration, of both legal immigration and illegal immigration.”

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