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Both parties gutless on illegal immigration

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Special to CNN
  • Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Neither party has guts to deal with illegal immigration
  • Navarrette writes, Republican John Kyl has gone back and forth many times
  • Democrat Harry Reid raises expectations about reform, then dashes them, he says
  • Both parties seem to agree immigration issue belongs on ice, Navarrette writes

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, a nationally syndicated columnist and a regular contributor to

San Diego, California (CNN) -- As a typical American who shuns the hard work my grandfathers did, last week on this site, I took responsibility for creating the problem of illegal immigration.

Good thing. Because this week, it became clear that, in Congress, neither Republicans nor Democrats have the guts to take responsibility for fixing the problem of illegal immigration.

Republican Sen. John Kyl is having trouble reconciling his recent threat to filibuster a comprehensive immigration bill with the fact that, in 2007, he co-sponsored, along with a bipartisan group of senators, a comprehensive immigration bill.

And that was a giant leap forward from where Kyl was in 2005, when he co-sponsored with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a much simpler and less plausible enforcement-only bill that looked like the senators sketched it out on a cocktail napkin.

The only way to make sense of the back-and-forth is to chart Kyl's various positions on graph alongside when he was up for re-election.

When he stands before the voters in Arizona, as he last did in 2006, he leans right. And when he gets back to Washington and feels secure with another six-year term under his belt, he straightens up and shows momentary flashes of leadership.

In his latest incarnation -- Kyl 3.0 -- his feelings are hurt over the way in which Democrats rammed through health care reform. And, so he's taking his marbles and going home.

Hey, I know the type. Before I became a writer, I taught kindergarten. Sometimes, when a little one is intent on throwing a tantrum, you just have to get out of the way.

Democrat Harry Reid is worse, if you can believe it. The embattled Senate majority leader can't seem to remember what he's promising to what group from day to day. Reid promised a largely Latino immigration reform rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, that the Senate would tackle immigration reform soon after reconvening from spring recess.

On Saturday, Reid said this: "We're going to come back; we're going to have comprehensive immigration reform now." And this: "We need to do this this year. We cannot wait." And this: "We're going to pass immigration reform, just as we passed health care reform."

By Tuesday, Reid was back in Washington and back to being an impediment to immigration reform, just as he was in the 2005-07 debate. He said the Senate wouldn't get to immigration reform before the Memorial Day recess.

"We have a lot of work to do," Reid said at the Capitol. "And we're dealing, everyone has to understand, with a party of no, that they're trying to stop everything." So, he said, "We won't get to immigration reform this work period."

The party of no? Is Reid kidding? With Democrats like him running the show, who needs Republicans? In Latino households all over America, they're cursing the Senate majority leader with words that I can't repeat on a family Web site. I will say that most of those words are in Spanish and the sort Grandma used to call out when she was chasing us with a shoe in hand.

Reid press secretary Rodell Mollineau is admirably doing damage control, telling an Internet site that Reid was specifically referring to immigration reform not making it to the actual Senate floor for a vote before the end of May.

Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, have been working on a bill, but, we're told, they're not finished. So, Mollineau says, we can't expect Reid to force a debate without a bill.

Judging from how specific Schumer and Graham were in a recent Washington Post op-ed laying out the details of their bill, it's hard to believe that they're not very close to the finish line. It's also hard to believe that Reid meant what his press secretary is trying to convince us he meant.

The Senate majority leader's words speak for themselves. And they leave the impression that, if Reid wanted Schumer and Graham to introduce a bill, he'd have it on his desk by the end of the day. It's more shoddy leadership from Reid, but we've come to expect nothing else from the Senate majority leader on the most difficult issues.

Up for re-election in Nevada, and trailing every possible opponent in the polls, Reid is the longest of long shots in the Silver State. And now that he's cooked his goose with Latinos, he can completely forget about winning another term. The smart money says Reid is dealing blackjack on the Strip by next spring.

When his term is up in 2012, maybe Kyl can join his old Senate colleague shuffling cards. The country would be better off.

At the risk of overusing a metaphor, let's put our cards on the table. Recent events are disappointing but not surprising. You'll find plenty of support for immigration reform from immigrants, immigration activists, Latino voters, evangelicals, law enforcement, business leaders, educators and others. But you won't find much support in Congress.

It's the politics of division. Democrats dread this debate because it pits labor on one side and Latinos on the other. Republicans resent it because it pits business on one side, and law and order enthusiasts on the other. The only thing that both parties agree on is where they think the immigration issue belongs: on ice.

Both parties share the blame for this legislative failure, but Democrats are going to catch most of the flak. After all, they failed to keep their promises and live up to expectations. Then they pointed the finger at Republicans in the hopes that we hadn't been paying attention.

I bet all this infuriates immigration activists and Latino voters who believed -- despite evidence to the contrary -- that putting President Obama and the Democrats in power would ensure the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

I'm glad they're furious. They should be. No one likes to be lied to, used and treated as fools, let alone all in one week. Now, the only question is this: What are they going to do about it come November? I suggest throwing a party. I have the perfect game: pin the tail on the donkey.

The opinions expressed in the commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.