Monday, April 17, 2006

Let's Play the Blame Game

Last week, Joshua Marshall of Talking Points Memo posted a report that the Republicans were planning to run Spanish-language ads, alleging that "Democrats were behind the bill the House passed to treat illegal aliens as felons." As TPM explains it:

That of course is the GOP-backed bill Republicans are now running away from in droves.

Figure the ad will get taken off the air? Will the cable nets feature the bamboozlement?

The argument is really pretty egregious even by GOP standards. House Republicans put up a bill to make being an illegal alien a felony. An amendment was proposed that would have made it a misdemeanor. As the AP reports, "Democrats, including members of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, voted against the amendment, arguing they did not support criminal penalties. Nevada Republicans Jon Porter and Jim Gibbons also voted against the amendment, which failed. The felony provision remained in the bill, H.R. 4437, and it passed the House on a largely party line vote."

So Democrats wouldn't vote for criminalizing at all. Ergo, they're for making it a felony. (Emphasis mine)
Now I've been looking for confirmation of this outrageous story, but had only seen a few other blog references, all citing back to the TPM story. Admittedly, I've said many times that the Republicans think nothing of lying about a previous event, even when the original version is preserved on videotape for all the world to see. They don't even flinch when confronted with the evidence. So why should this latest episode surprise me?

Today -- four days later -- I saw this post from MyDD, Criminalization of Undocumented Immigrants Came from Bush, which links to an LATimes article, Blame Builds More Barriers in Immigration Debate.

And yes, it is true. The Republicans who pushed the inclusion of a felony provision in the House bill now plan a campaign to blame the Democrats for it. As Brownstein reports:
Frist and Hastert blamed Democrats for one of the most controversial ideas in the debate: the provision in the legislation the House of Representatives passed in December designating the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in America as felons. The Republican National Committee plans to run Spanish-language radio ads echoing that charge.

The proposal to designate illegal immigrants as criminals, more than anything else, has ignited the nationwide wave of protests against the House bill. To attribute the idea to Democrats, Frist, Hastert and the RNC have to join the story on the last page — and then misrepresent the evidence to boot. In fact, from the start of the recent debate, Republicans have driven the notion of imposing criminal penalties on illegal immigrants. Although President Bush has never acknowledged paternity, the idea's fathers include his administration.

* * * *

Contrary to the description from Hastert and Frist, Democrats and immigrant groups opposed this proposal from the start. In particular, they charged that the idea advanced a hidden agenda distinct from the argument about equalizing the penalties for overstaying a visa and sneaking across the border.

During the Judiciary Committee debate, Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-Lakewood) pinpointed one of those concerns: By designating all illegal immigrants as criminals, she said, the bill would increase pressure on local law enforcement officials to apprehend them -— a top priority for many conservatives. "This bill could lead to an open season on anyone in this country who appears to be foreign," she said.

Democrats identified another concern in their dissent to the committee report that accompanied the bill. Proposals, such as those most senators support, to allow illegal immigrants to work legally in the U.S. and move toward citizenship exclude those with a serious criminal record. If all existing illegal immigrants were branded as felons, the Democrats noted, they would be ineligible for any future legalization program.
To summarize: When opposition grew fierce, the Republicans wanted to change the penalty provision from a felony to a misdemeanor. The Democrats didn't want any criminal penalties, so they opposed the amendment. So now the Republicans say the Democrats are the bad guys.

I think Ron Brownstein says it best: "Does chutzpah translate into Spanish?"

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