How Much Does the House Hate Immigration?

Many House Republicans say they dislike the Senate's successful immigration reform bill, so much that they haven't even read it. And while lots of unelected Republicans think the party must pass reform to remain relevant, things haven't changed so much among most of the elected ones.

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Many House Republicans say they dislike the Senate's immigration reform bill — which passed on Thursday evening, 68 to 32 — so much that they haven't even read it. "I can't tell you what's in that big Senate bill, and the well over 1,000 or 1,500 pages that it may be, and that's my concern," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told Yahoo News. "I haven't read the full thing so I really don't know how — it's a pretty big amendment," Rep. Paul Ryan told The National Review, referring to the compromise that would put 40,000 agents on the border. "Just like all the senators, I haven't read it yet," Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp says. Despite not reading it, they will not work with it. The House will work on its own immigration bill — or set of bills — and debate the issue, possibly till the end of the year. It is not clear the end result will be immigration reform passing.

While lots of unelected Republicans — the Republican National Committee, College Republicans, Karl Rove — think the party must pass immigration reform to remain relevant, things haven't changed so much among most elected Republicans. As The National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru points out, a smaller percentage of Republican senators voted for the immigration bill in 2013 than did in 2006, and the legislation died in the House back then anyway. Despite success in the Senate, we're not seeing a wave of House Republicans move toward immigration reform right now. It makes sense. As National Journal's Ronald Brownstein and Scott Bland reported in January, "165 House Republicans, or just over 70 percent, represent districts in which Hispanics make up no more than 10 percent of the voting-age population." House Speaker John Boehner says he won't bring an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have the support of a majority of Republicans. Ryan says that's "absolutely" right. Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford told Politico, "There's a whole group of folks that don’t want anything to go to conference because they’re terrified of what it might be."

Just a couple weeks ago, Politico reported that Boehner wanted the House committees to finish working on their immigration bills by July 4, and to have the House vote on it before the August recess. Now, Politico's Jake Sherman and Ginger Gibson report, Boehner and others in House leadership "are comfortable with letting the process stretch until the end of the year." And instead of keeping immigration opponents quiet, they'll be allowed to vent.

"Even though leadership usually would like far-right lawmakers to keep their mouths zipped when they talk about these issues, this time they plan to let the anti-immigration reform members run wild. They want to see exactly how many people agree with folks like Rep. Steve King."

King is feeling confident, telling Politico, "Lord only knows, two months ago there were two of us, maybe even only one of us... Today, you can count us by the dozens or the scores." But if the point of passing immigration reform was to show Latinos the GOP is not hostile to them, letting people like King vent would seem to pose a problem. At a closed-door Republican meeting this month, King reportedly raised his hand when Rep. Raul Labrador asked, "Who wants less legal immigration?" In April, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert explained his opposition to immigration reform by claiming immigrants might really be Al Qaeda. "We know that people that are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic when they are radical Islamist," he said. In March, Alaska Rep. Don Young told a heartwarming story about all the "wetbacks" his father hired in the 1950s. And that was before they started venting.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.