GOP Immigration Bill Stirs Tension Among Hispanic Conservatives

Rafael Bernal, The Hill, March 17, 2018

A press event meant to tout conservative Hispanic support for a hard-line immigration bill instead brought into sharp relief the deep divisions among Latino Republicans on the issue.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and main sponsor of the Securing America’s Future Act, hosted the event Tuesday, inviting conservative Hispanic groups to speak in support of his bill, which would provide protections for so-called Dreamers.

The legislation would also fund President Trump’s border wall, end the diversity visa lottery program, limit family-based visas, create a new, controversial agriculture guest worker program, allow the administration to withhold federal money from sanctuary cities and require employers to use the E-Verify program to check the immigration status of their workers.

Because of those provisions, the bill is unanimously opposed by House Democrats and does not yet have 218 votes from Republicans. Most Hispanic groups oppose it.

The main organizer of Goodlatte’s event, Alfonso Aguilar, the president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said even he has misgivings about the bill.

Aguilar and Artemio Muñiz, a Texas Republican who was listed as a participant in the press materials and spoke at the event, said they view support of the legislation as a strategic move.

Aguilar said he’s against the bill’s stated goal of reducing legal immigration by 25 percent, and Muñiz said he wants a special path to citizenship for Dreamers, which Goodlatte’s bill does not provide for.

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Five of the eleven invited guests didn’t show up, including Omar Franco of the Latino Coalition, who said {snip} “That bill is a sellout to the entire community, we would never support something like that.”

Franco added the bill doesn’t meet any of the Latino Coalition’s three criteria for support: That it’s positive for the country, for the Hispanic community and for small businesses.

The Latino Coalition is among the most influential Hispanic groups that maintain an active relationship with Trump; he was the keynote speaker at the group’s annual summit last week.

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Aguilar blamed the no-shows and criticism of the handling of the event on pressure from Hispanic groups opposed to the legislation.

“I suspect that they got calls from Latino leaders like I did. I mean, we were getting calls. The others were getting calls to cancel or not participate,” Aguilar said.

“And you know this is part of the Latino shaming, if you don’t agree with the narrative from the Hispanic liberal elite,” he added.

Franco said his opposition to the bill is based on principle — he supports comprehensive immigration reform and an immediate path to citizenship for Dreamers. He added that, as a Republican, he avoids speaking out in opposition to other Republican proposals.

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“We could have had more leaders if we had enough time, but the whole point is that you do have leaders who support passage of the Goodlatte bill,” Aguilar said. “Some don’t and that’s fine, but there’s not a monolithic position in the Latino community.”

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