The week started ugly, with Monday’s Boston Marathon massacre. Things didn’t get much better. Just as the airwaves filled with those heart-wrenching images of torn and bleeding runners and spectators and conflicting reports about whether they had a suspect in custody, we got news of the U.S. Capitol being evacuated in the face of an onslaught of poison pen letters to the president and key senators sent by a guy who worked improbably as an Elvis impersonator.
The biggest challenge for supporters of the bill will be convincing House conservatives like Republican Congressman Lamar Smith that the flow of immigrants across our southern border will be stopped.
- Geraldo Rivera
Then we got the stunning arrest of the wife of a disgraced Justice of the Peace for the murders of two Texas prosecutors we thought had been killed by the Aryan Brotherhood or the Mexican drug cartels. Not to mention the acrimonious gun control debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate that destroyed hope for meaningful compromise on the issue of background checks. And as if we needed any more tension, Thursday morning there was that devastating explosion at the Texas fertilizer plant, which happened near the anniversaries of both the bloody 1993 ATF raid on the Branch-Davidian compound in nearby Waco, and the subsequent savage bombing by Timothy McVeigh of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Into this climate of generally high anxiety and mutual recrimination in Washington, the bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ senators, including four Democrats and four Republicans bravely introduced their sweeping immigration reform legislation anyway.
Unfortunately, renewed acrimony may trump the urgency of the lessons the Republicans learned following Mitt Romney’s crushing defeat at the hands of Latino voters last November. My fear is the moment may have been lost for immigration reform.
The bottom fell out suddenly, a victim of the events described this dramatic week, mainly the divisive gun control votes. On Monday, the Senate sponsors of the background check bill, Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin were quoted as saying they had 70 votes lined up to pass their proposal. Then the NRA flexed its enormous muscle; the gun lobby telling wavering senators that they were ‘scoring’ their votes. In other words, a vote for background checks meant those senators in gun-friendly states would be vulnerable to possible right-wing primary challengers backed by the gun lobby.
The president was infuriated. “All that happened today was the preservation of the loophole that let’s dangerous criminals buy guns without a background check, it did not make our kids safer. So all in all this was a pretty shameful day for America,” said the president.
It is against that backdrop of name-calling and finger-pointing that the Gang of Eight introduced its comprehensive immigration reform bill that requires bipartisan support to become law. Crafted over long months of intense negotiation and dozens of closed door negotiating sessions, the bill liberates the 11 million undocumented immigrants living among us from the fear of deportation. But it does so at a steep, fair price; including criminal background checks, a hefty fine of $2,000, the payment of all relevant taxes, civics and English language courses, all while pledging not to seek federal benefits.
“We offer a path to citizenship to people who didn't come here legally,” said Senator John McCain at the gang’s press conference Thursday, which was originally scheduled for earlier in the week, but was delayed by the tragic events in Boston. “They are here, and realistically, there is nothing we can do that will induce them all to return to their country of origin. Many of them make valuable contributions to our society and will provide even more if they are brought out of the shadows and in compliance with our laws.”
The road forward will be as rocky as the road that finally got us to this place. The good news is the courage of the four Republicans involved in the process; Florida’s Marco Rubio, Arizona’s John McCain and Jeff Flake, and South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham. Rubio is perhaps the indispensable man in the Republican quartet, a probable 2016 presidential candidate who spoke eloquently at Thursday’s press conference.
“We're dealing with this not because we legally have to, but because number one, it is in our national interest as a nation. It is not good for this country to have millions of people living in shadows. And number two, we are dealing with this issue because this is who we are. We are the most compassionate nation on Earth. We are the people that have welcomed people from all over the Earth for over 200 years in a way that other countries rejected because they were scared of it. Not us, we embraced it, and because we did, those immigrants, each of us the descendent of immigrants, have created here the single greatest society that man has known.”
The proposed legislation is already provoking fierce debate about whether it amounts to amnesty to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country and whether it will encourage more unauthorized immigrants to follow in their footsteps. In that regard the biggest challenge for supporters of the bill will be convincing House conservatives like Republican Congressman Lamar Smith that the flow of immigrants across our southern border will be stopped. He remains unalterable opposed.
‘What don’t Republican senators like Rubio, Graham and McCain get about border security that you do,’ I asked the tough Texan from San Antonio?
“Well my real disappointment with the bill is that it gives legalization to almost everybody in the country in 6 months—but there is no guarantee that the border will ever be secured. So, this is an open invitation to those outside of the country that come into the country illegally, and someday, take advantage of this legalization program, or even become citizens. But, there is nothing in the bill that guarantees that we will even ever have a secure border.”
There are substantive answers to Congressman Smith’s questions in the bill. But in this week’s renewed atmosphere of partisan bickering and bitterness, I fear not enough Republicans will be listening or remembering what happened way back on November 6, 2012.
Geraldo Rivera is currently host of "Geraldo at Large" on Fox News Channel (FNC), which is also nationally syndicated by Twentieth Television. Rivera recently celebrated 40 years in journalism.