Leading CIR Advocate Switches Sides02 Apr 2011
Although most people acknowledge that comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is long overdue, few expect it to happen before the next election. Even President Obama, while announcing his continued support for CIR during a recent visit to El Salvador, nonetheless acknowledged that “It won’t be easy,” and that “The politics of this are difficult.” (See Immigration Reform: Still on Obama’s Agenda, MurthyBlog, 31.Mar.2011.) That was already an understatement when the President said it, but CIR is even more of a long shot now that Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake has withdrawn his support.
As the Arizona Republic noted, “For years, Rep. Jeff Flake was one of the most reliable Republican champions for comprehensive immigration reform. Not anymore.” (See Flake Rejects Comprehensive Immigration Fix,” by Dan Nowicki, Arizona Republic, 23.Mar.2011.) In a statement posted on Rep. Flake’s website, he explained:
“The federal government has failed in its responsibility to secure the United States border. The flow of drugs, guns, and humans being smuggled across the southern border has overwhelmed states like Arizona. Americans are rightly skeptical of the federal government’s ability and willingness to secure the border.
“I have supported numerous border security measures over the years, including voting to build the border fence. I have also introduced legislation that includes significant border security and interior enforcement measures.
“Once the border is secured, Congress will still need to address our broken immigration system. However, I do not support moving ahead with those reforms until the federal government has demonstrated that it is capable of securing the border.” (See Immigration Reform, Issues Section, Office of Congressman Jeff Flake.)
Why the change of heart? Rep. Flake is running to replace retiring Arizona Senator John Kyl, another erstwhile supporter of CIR who, as the Arizona Republic notes, finally gave up on it in frustration. Writing in Politico.com, commentator David Catanese predicted that Rep. Flake’s late conversion to CIR opponent “almost guarantees him a primary opponent to the right.” (See Jeff Flake’s Immigration Flip, by David Catanese, Politico.com, 23.Mar.2011.)
On the purely political level, who could blame him? If, as the President says, the politics of this are difficult, arguably they are at their most difficult in Arizona. Although the Arizona state legislature has retreated from its more aggressive immigration enforcement bills, it would be difficult – if not impossible – for Flake to succeed in his Senate bid, given his solid past support for CIR. To many of his constituents, this would make him look “soft on immigration.”
It remains to be seen whether Flake’s recent change of policy – if not change of heart – will enable him to outrun his record. One thing is certain, though: with Rep. Flake’s departure, CIR advocates have lost a bold conservative advocate for reform; and as Democrats have had to learn, over and over, CIR is not going anywhere without bipartisan support.