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Could Missouri actually be on the cutting edge of immigration reform? Could a bipartisan state Senate panel be working in lockstep with a national panel of U.S. senators, which includes Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)?
Durbin’s panel is actually addressing the realities of immigration reform and the paths to legal citizenship for more than 11 million people who—for lack of a better term—are living here illegally. Our Republican majority blue ribbon panel, appointed in 2012, is protecting the right of legislators to insult Hispanics and the idiocy of English-only driver’s license exams.
President Obama is scheduled to unveil his plan for immigration reform today in Las Vegas, just days after the landmark national bipartisan agreement that seeks to create a new framework for addressing a decades-old national problem. Durbin told FOX News on Sunday that, “We are committed to a comprehensive approach to finally in this country have an immigration law that we can live with.”
Joining Durbin on the national committee are Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
Republicans realize that winning a national election—and many statewide races—will be nearly impossible without improving their image with Hispanic voters. Obama won about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 presidential election. Mitt Romney garnered about 25 percent.
Missouri GOP members obviously couldn't care less.
Last year, the state senate appointed a Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigration that is chaired by John Lamping (R-Ladue.) I wonder how many Hispanic people live in his district. The other members are Will Kraus (R-Lees Summit), Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City), Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City), and Shalonn “Kiki” Curls (D-Kansas City).
According to the senate’s website, the panel is responsible “for studying current immigration policies and make recommendations to strengthen laws. Its scope includes eligibility for public benefits, education benefits, proof of citizenship or lawful presence for driving privileges, and involvement in state contracts.
The last of three public meetings was held in December in Jefferson City and topics included Missouri’s passion for English-only driver’s license exams. (Meanwhile, Illinois has approved legislation that grants "illegals" a way to secure a driver's license.) An attendee at the meeting suggested the legislators tone down “inflammatory rhetoric,” because it impacts how immigrants are treated in Missouri. She said this could be addressed privately by Lamping and other legislative leaders.
Lamping sees no need to curtail the insulting talk, since that would infringe on legislators’ right to free speech.
The panel’s final report is due on Thursday, but I don’t expect much to come of it. Following a St. Louis meeting in November, Chappelle-Nadal shared her doubts that the panel could accomplish much, though she did call the hearings “a good move forward.” The Democrats are outnumbered 3-2 and any hope of real reform coming from this group is far from likely.
For all the support of rigid immigration policies in Missouri, it really should not be of that much concern to Missourians.
According to the U.S. Census of 2010, Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin make up just 3.6 percent of St. Louis' population, and 3.7 percent of the state population. Hispanic-owned firms make up 1.4 percent of St. Louis area businesses and 1.2 percent of Missouri’s.
I doubt our state’s blue ribbon panel’s report will begin with the sentence, “We recognize that our immigration system is broken,” as the national panel’s does.
My guess is that Missouri will again buck the national trend (as with gun control) and push for outdated and racially tinged "new" immigration policies.
Commentary by Alvin Reid