This has not been a good political week for the Hispanic community. Hispanic leaders in the House caved to Democratic pressure and endorsed the health care bill expected to be voted on in the House this Sunday. The Hispanic Caucus has long been opposed to the Senate version because it would bar illegal immigrants from using their own money to purchase insurance on the exchange that would be created for the uninsured and it would exclude legal immigrants from accessing the exchange for five years. The House is planning to pass the Senate bill with some changes that will be done through reconciliation. Unfortunately, those changes must be germane to the budget and neither immigration nor another hot button issue, abortion, can be fixed this way. “We know that understanding political reality of this moment, it’s smart to embrace the bill and move it along,” Hector Sanchez, a representative of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement told reporters on Capitol Hill Friday. “We have been flexible enough to move this issue forward but legislative leaders better deliver when immigration reform comes to the table.” In fact, the Hispanic community remains divided with one of the largest Latino outreach groups, the National Council of La Raza, opposing the bill. To add insult to injury, Sunday passage of the bill is sure to completely drown out a long-planned march on Capitol Hill in support of immigration reform.
The week wasn’t totally a write off: Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham unveiled a long-anticipated blueprint of their immigration reform legislation which was quickly endorsed by the White House. “The American people deserve more than empty rhetoric and impractical calls for mass deportation. We urge the public and our colleagues to join our bipartisan efforts in enacting these reforms,” the senators wrote in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post. Unfortunately, with the midterm elections rapidly approaching the political will to get something as controversial as immigration reform done is quickly waning. It’s likely that the Senate will not attempt passage before the November elections unless Graham can sway enough Republicans on board to make it a truly bipartisan and broad-based effort – a move that will surely be complicated by health care reform. Graham has repeatedly warned that using reconciliation to make fixes to the health bill would kill any and all bipartisan efforts on all other legislation, including immigration. “President Obama has not been unwavering on immigration reform,” Graham told ABC’s “This Week.” “He has pretty much ignored it because he has been consumed by health care. And there will be no way we’ll be able to go to the Senate after you blow it up with risk-averse Democrats and Republicans upset to deal with something as important and controversial as immigration.” Latinos made up a key voting bloc for Democrats in 2008 and depressed turnout could hurt Democratic candidates in 2010, especially in states like Colorado (Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. John Salazar, Rep. Betsy Markey, ) and California (Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rep. Jerry McNerney).