Advocates Grade Congress on Immigration (Updated)

Posted July 29, 2014 at 10:01am
immigration 306 072814 445x313 Advocates Grade Congress on Immigration (Updated)
Immigration overhaul advocates hold a large rally in front of the White House Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Frustrated by lack of action and unfulfilled promises on the immigration overhaul front, a coalition of 10 advocacy groups is out to hold House members accountable for the extent to which they were unhelpful to the cause.

A new scorecard for all 435 members’ immigration votes, statements and co-sponsorships aims to draw a stark portrait of “who stands with us and who does not,” said Hispanic Federation President José Calderón. The rankings come as Congress nears a boiling point on an emergency funding request from President Barack Obama intended to mitigate the crisis at the border as children cross illegally into the United States.

The first-of-its-kind scorecard was released Monday, as advocates gathered a stone’s throw from the Capitol for the grand unveiling, calling for action and scolding lawmakers for what they see as stonewalling on a critical issue.

“Every ‘zero’ you see in that scorecard is personal to us,” said Rocio Sáenz, a member of the board of directors for Mi Familia Vota.

“There is some explaining that needs to be done as to why they said to us in private that they supported immigration reform, yet their report card says different,” said Tony Suárez, vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Republicans received significantly lower rankings than Democrats. Clarissa Martínez de Castro, the deputy vice president of the National Council of La Raza Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation, said the discrepancy reflected a “Republican leadership failure,” though the organizations behind the scorecard insist the results are based on the facts and aren’t motivated by party preference.

Here’s a look at the rankings, based on members’ positions in 11 different areas over the past several months:

  • There are 234 Republicans currently serving in the House of Representatives; only 43 of the 234 received scores that exceeded 0 percent, the equivalent of a failing grade.
  • The highest score achieved by any Republican was 64 percent for Rep. David Valadao of California, one of three House GOP lawmakers to sign on as a co-sponsor to House Democrats’ comprehensive immigration overhaul bill that closely mirrors the one passed by the Senate last year. The two other co-sponsors of that effort had the second and third highest rankings on the scorecard: Jeff Denham of California got 55 percent and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida got 50 percent.
  • All members of GOP leadership received a score of 0 percent, including outgoing Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who lost his primary election to an opponent who called him the most liberal Republican on “amnesty” serving in elected office. That is, except for National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., who scored a 9 percent ranking for fulfilling one criteria on the scorecard: Making a statement “in support of immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.”
  • Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., one of the most embattled incumbents in the 2014 election cycle, received 9 percent — perhaps the lowest of any House Republican who has sought to distinguish himself as an outlier in his party on the immigration debate. Coffman, a veteran, introduced legislation to grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants who serve in the military and has said repeatedly he would fight to push his party to take action to overhaul the immigration system. Ultimately, however, he only got points from the coalition groups for his stated support of citizenship, the same as Walden.
  • Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., got a 0 percent score with the coalition groups, despite being called a friend of the immigration overhaul movement and someone whom GOP leaders would time and again dispatch to implore members of the rank and file to get on board with the effort.
  • Six of the seven members of the GOP working group tasked with making policy recommendations to stem the tide of the child migrant border surge received 0 percent — with the exception of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who earned 30 percent and has been one of his party’s strongest voices in favor of fixing the nation’s immigration system.

Three others in the working group who received scores of 0 percent were at one time also thought to be key players in moving immigration through the legislative pipeline. Texas Rep. John Carter was, like Diaz-Balart, a member of the now-disbanded “gang of eight” working to introduce bipartisan immigration overhaul legislation, until he decided he could not trust Obama to enforce the law. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, helped draft a border security bill that cleared his panel in one of the only bipartisan votes of the immigration debate. And Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., was once thought to hold the key to moving immigration legislation forward, though he has now become one of the cause’s greatest foils.

  • Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, who also left the “gang of eight,” got an 18 percent rating.
  • There are 199 Democrats currently serving in the House of Representatives. Of that number, 62 received perfect scores of 100 percent. Only eight Democrats scored below 80 percent, meaning the vast majority of lawmakers in the minority party have held positions that are consistent with the values of the coalition spearheading the scorecard.
  • The lowest Democratic score was 9 percent, for perpetually vulnerable Rep. John Barrow of Georgia. His points came from voting “yes” on a deportation-related amendment to legislation passed earlier this year.

The second lowest score was 18 percent, for another Democrat facing a difficult re-election bid this fall, Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia. He picked up points for voting in favor of the same amendment as Barrow, and also for voting against a Steve King amendment to the fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill to bar “the use of funds from going to citizens that have passed and enacted sanctuary cities or sanctuary political subdivisions.”

  • Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, received a 64 percent rating on the 2014 immigration scorecard for voting with Republicans on two bills that would ultimately challenge Obama’s Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals executive action, voting against an amendment to the fiscal 2014 Homeland Security appropriations bill to require officials to maintain a level of no fewer than 34,000 detention beds and declining to co-sponsor legislation “to promote family unity in the immigration system.” Cuellar, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has in recent weeks become a friend to Republicans and a foe to many fellow Democrats for supporting, in the pending border funding bill, a controversial fix to a 2008 trafficking law to make it easier for Central American children apprehended at the border to deport themselves.
  • All members of House Democratic leadership boasted high scores. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the minority whip, initially showed the lowest score, of 82 percent, among his peers because of his votes. But after this story was first published, Hoyer’s office told CQ Roll Call the scorecard is incorrect. Martínez de Castro confirmed that Hoyer’s score was calculated incorrectly and that his number would actually be higher once re-calculations are completed.

Ultimately, Hoyer’s score came out to be 91 percent, the same as Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel all got 100 percent.