Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer (left) and Dick Durbin were the only attendees at a subcommittee hearing on Arizonas immigration law Tuesday, one day before the Supreme Court was set to hear oral arguments on the far-reaching measure.
Republicans, including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, have been walking a fine line as they seek to show their base they are tough on illegal immigration but not to the point that it alienates Latino voters in the general election — particularly in swing states such as Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado.
Democrats have struggled to make good on campaign promises to tackle immigration reform and other bills, such as the DREAM Act, which would help the children of illegal immigrants.
Despite criticism from some interest groups, the Arizona law has been praised by most of the GOP presidential candidates, including Romney, who called it a “model” for the nation.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, said border states have been left little choice except to take on the issue, given that there has been no legislative action to alleviate the problem.
“In my state, when you say ‘mañana,’ that means always tomorrow. That seems to be the president’s attitude, and the Senate Democrats’ attitude when it comes to fixing our broken immigration system,” Cornyn said.
Even as Schumer convened his hearing Tuesday morning, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on the Senate floor that he would not bow to Republican demands to “weaken” the Violence Against Women Act, which is slated for a vote on the floor this week.
The Senate reauthorization of the act includes a provision that would give battered, undocumented women temporary visas to encourage them to come forward.
The current cap for U visas is 10,000, but that could be increased to 15,000 by using visas unclaimed since 2006.
But Republicans have expressed concern about that provision, along with language extending the bill’s protections to gays and lesbians.
Sixty Senators support the bill, including eight Republicans, and it is expected to pass.
Durbin said Democratic leaders had discussed the possibility of dropping the immigrant provision in order to avoid immigration-related amendments that could be offered on the bill.
“Briefly, someone said, ‘If you leave that in, other things can happen,’” Durbin said Tuesday. “But everyone to a person in the [Democratic caucus] room said, ‘It has to stay in.’”
Cornyn said Republicans are concerned about the possible misuse of the additional annual temporary visas.
“I know there is some concern about that,” Cornyn said. But he noted that “there is strong bipartisan support” for the bill.
In a Monday op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, Cornyn called out Democrats for what he argues is an attempt to score political points with the bill.
“This is shameful,” Cornyn wrote. “The law was enacted to protect and serve the interests of crime victims, not to help a political party fire up its base.”
His comments come as Democrats and Republicans square off for the votes of women and Latinos.
Polls show Romney trailing President Barack Obama among female voters by clear margins and that Obama has wide edges with Hispanic voters.
Cornyn said he intends to offer an amendment that would help address the massive backlog of untested rape kits and toughen sentencing for some of the worst sex offenders who commit crimes against women and children.