If comprehensive immigration reform advocates were looking for a glimmer of hope that House Republicans, specifically John Boehner, are serious about eventually getting a bipartisan bill out of Congress, they may have just gotten it.
The Speaker of the House announced Tuesday the hiring of Rebecca Tallent, director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, or BPC. She starts Wednesday in Boehner's office.
House Republicans have come under scrutiny from activists who have blamed them for the stalemate on the overhaul. Still, House leaders have been employing a piecemeal approach toward reform. The Democratic-led Senate passed a more than 1,000 page comprehensive bill in June, but Boehner and other House leaders have said they will not take it up.
“The speaker remains hopeful that we can enact step-by-step, common-sense immigration reforms -- the kind of reforms the American people understand and support,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner. “Becky Tallent, a well-known expert in this field of public policy, is a great addition to our team and that effort.”
Tallent has worked as a policy aide for immigration for Republican leaders in the House and Senate. She was a senior policy adviser during Sen. John McCain's failed 2008 presidential campaign.
Her praises are being sung by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Babour, who said Boehner couldn’t have chosen a better hire. Babour is now co-chair of the BPC.
“Speaker Boehner’s choice to hire Becky is affirmation of his strong desire to move legislation in 2014,” he said in a statement.
‘Fox Is In The Hen House’
But opponents of the type of immigration restructuring the Democrats want to achieve are lashing out at Tallent’s appointment. They say she is a “hardcore, well-connected advocate of amnesty and immigration increases” and that Boehner, who has only said he is committed to immigration reform, but not what kind of reform, has left little doubt about where he stands on the issue.
“Rebecca Tallent was not hired by Boehner to twiddle her thumbs,” said Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR. “She’s clearly been hired to help get Boehner to that goal [of amnesty] successfully.
“The fox is in the henhouse now and Boehner invited her in,” he added. “If there were any questions regarding his leanings on immigration, those are now answered. She has been hired as the amnesty architect, and the 2014 agenda on this issue is clear.”
Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said that Boehner does want amnesty, a term used by conservatives to describe the proposal to provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants in America.
“His putting someone who very much is an advocate of amnesty in that position is an indication of how much he still wants to have it,” Camarota said. He added that Tallent’s appointment could also be the speaker’s way of “throwing [advocates] a bone.”
“Boehner would like the amnesty but he’s just not emotionally committed to it,” Camarota said. “I actually think that’s true with [President Barack] Obama as well. They’re just not emotionally committed.”
A Pragmatist Who Could Get Votes
Not so, said Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist who has known Tallent and worked with her for years.
According to Navarro, Tallent is a serious, loyal woman who knows the laws, how to write them, can craft a plan that makes sense, and is able to get the votes in the House.
“Beck is a loyal staffer,” Navarro said. “She is going to reflect the wishes of Boehner. But I think what it means is that [Boehner] wants to address the issue in some way and brought her in to try to craft what way that is.
“I don’t think Boehner would have brought Becky on if he didn’t genuinely intend to try to get something done,” she added. “More importantly, I’ve known Becky for years, and I don’t think she would have accepted the job if she didn’t believe he intends to get something done.”
The bill that could come from her work, said Navarro, will not be “amnesty.”
“It’s going to be something crafted by the House, different from the Senate, that can both address the issue and pass the House,” she added. “I don’t think [Boehner is] bringing her on to advocate her views. I think he’s bringing her on because she has the knowledge, the experience, the pragmatism and the temperament to be able to work with all sides and try to craft some sort of legislation that can obtain the votes.”
Since losing the White House to Obama twice, the GOP has been trying to sway Hispanics -- the largest minority group in the nation -- who have a rather negative view of the party.
According a September survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, Hispanics are three times more likely to identify with Democrats than with Republicans. In the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election loss, Republicans have been on a mission to change the view that they are anti-immigrant.
But Republican voters have already given the party an early warning: They will be less likely to support incumbents who back reform with a path to citizenship, according the National Journal.
That, to Dane, is a more impressive statistic. He said Republicans need to do away with the notion that amnesty has anything to do with true immigration reform. He said that if the GOP wants a true immigration reform strategy, it should compel the president to start enforcing the laws on the books, secure the border and protect American jobs.
“Look, Boehner needs to be very careful,” Dane said. “Boehner should be aware of this -- this fight within the GOP over the idea that they need to reach out to the Hispanics in order to win their support. The amnesty bill is already splitting the party ... no matter how well-intentioned, the Republicans aren’t going to get any credit for it.”
“How the devil does giving amnesty to 12 million illegal aliens who are overwhelmingly, heavily government dependent and going to vote for Democrats going to help the GOP?” Dane said. “There is no game plan. They are listening to the Karl Rove chalkboard post-election knee-jerk reaction that the Republicans have when they lost a second term to Obama.”
Dane added that Republicans do need a strategy to attract Hispanics because of the voting bloc’s growing power. But he said the party must not see the group as instant voters, and it must remain true to itself.
“Gee, do a better job at selling your core values -- freedom, liberties, small government, jobs, economic opportunities -- because frankly most Hispanics come to the country legally and like most people they have a sense of fair play and they don’t like it when people cut the line and break the law,” Dane said. “It’s almost an insult to Hispanic voters to assume that you’re going to win his or her support by rewarding those who have broken the line when you’ve waited years to come here.”
Laura is a U.S. politics reporter for the International Business Times. She was always fascinated by the BBC World News each morning on the radio in Jamaica. That, and a love...