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That viewpoint was on full display when Perry was booed by a GOP audience at a Sept. 22 Republican presidential debate for defending his support for granting in-state college tuition to children of illegal immigrants.
Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he suspects Democrats are "trying to use immigration as a wedge to excite immigration advocates" and to deflect criticism that Obama has not succeeded in passing immigration reform.
"He finds himself approaching an election and the enthusiasm for a lot of the people he made these promises to is waning," the Texas Republican said. "I think we'll just have to see how this develops, but it would be very hard to do a lot between now and November 2012 on such a controversial topic."
So far this session, Congressional Republicans have been hesitant to touch the issue. Though committees have held hearings on the subject, House GOP leaders have not brought a single immigration-related bill to the House floor for a vote.
House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith's (R-Texas) employee verification bill passed the committee, but it is not scheduled for floor consideration as the chamber focuses on economy and jobs, said Laena Fallon, spokeswoman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
But the party also does not want to risk alienating Latinos, who now make up about 16 percent of the country's population, said a Senate GOP aide.
"Very divisive, so why go there?" the aide said. "Immigration splits folks — you couldn't get folks united on one proposal, so why even try?"
That doesn't sit well with Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which works to restrict immigration. He said he would like to see Republicans vote on hard-line immigration bills — even if they are only symbolic and would not pass the Senate.
"There seems to be this perceived wisdom that if you try to enforce immigration, you are going to upset the Latino voting base," he said. "But we would like to see bills that would support positions that we have taken, just get them out there, get people talking about it."