Originally Published: September 25, 2006 4 a.m.
The decision by the Republican leadership to not even try to enact immigration reform before the election smacks of punting when they should have gone for a touchdown.
America is begging for tough immigration reform and looking to the Republican Party to exercise its traditional role of leadership in law and order issues. But even without a real threat of a Democratic filibuster, the Republican Party has tripped over its own feet and given up its attempt to meet the needs of the country and its constituents.
The Republican failure to approve immigration reform despite controlling both houses and the presidency reminds one of Hillary's inability to even get health care reform reported out of committee despite enjoying a similar advantage in 1994.
Republican voters are not likely to forgive GOP ineptitude and failure. With a 30-vote margin in the House and 10 in the Senate, they will find the lack of action inexplicable.
The release this week of "Border War," a film produced by the conservative grassroots group Citizens United, brings the issue home in a way that voters in general and Republicans in particular will not forget. One can only hope that congressional Republicans who have failed the country will watch the movie and reflect on their missed opportunity. The film will have very wide distribution by DVD and in at least 125 theaters throughout the country. (Disclosure: We are working with Citizens United on a film due out this spring on our old friend Hillary Rodham Clinton, but we had no involvement in "Border War.")
With more than 10 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., the GOP failure to approve a bill is hard to understand.
A compromise was practically begging for Congress to reach it. Republican voters supported the Senate bill's earned path to citizenship and did not see it as amnesty. They know it is not feasible to return 10 million people to their countries of origin, and they get it that a democracy cannot have a permanent lawless class living in its midst.
On the other hand, the Republican base and the rest of the country strongly support a border fence. And cracking down on employers who hire illegals is wildly popular on both sides of the political divide.
One cannot help but compare the cowardly refusal to work out a deal on immigration with the bravery on the part of President Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) in negotiating a welfare reform deal. In 1996, the two leaders got together to enact one of the most significant bills since World War II.
The Citizens United film documents how our porous border allows coyotes to exploit would-be immigrants and invites human trafficking. It emphasizes the risk to the immigrant and to the country of a border they can breach, but only at great danger to those who try it.
But the talk radio acolytes scared the Republican Party into inaction. So fearful were they of aroused Hispanic-Americans on the one hand and angry white males ‹ and females ‹ on the other that they forgot their duty to lead and to compromise for progress.
Regardless of whether the Republicans keep control of Congress in the 2006 election, their numbers will decline. The chances of a good immigration reform bill will decline proportionally. A splendid opportunity will have passed, and will not soon return.
(Eileen McGann coauthored this column. Dick Morris' e-mail is email@example.com).