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How the immigration debate hurts the G.O.P.

Republicans are back-tracking, finger-pointing, and losing support
 
 
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The immigration debate is far from over and already the wave of pro-immigrant rallies have begun to affect the rhetoric. The demonstrations have divided and weakened the Republican Party, leaving them tangled up in their own politics in few different ways.

First, G.O.P. leaders are on the defensive, backtracking and finger-pointing like mad for supporting the criminalization of illegal immigrants. (Illegal immigration is now a federal violation, not a criminal offense.) In fact, some Republicans have decided they don't really support the legislation they wrote and/or voted for. Among them is Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.), who wrote the draconian House bill that prompted this month's rallies, and now blames Democrats for the harshness of his own legislation.

See if you can follow this: Back in December, Sensenbrenner introduced the House bill that would make it a felony crime to immigrate illegally or even assist illegal immigrants. When his bill was being amended, Sensenbrenner supported an amendment that would downgrade the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. Most House Democrats voted against both the misdemeanor amendment and the entire bill. But due to Republican support, Sensenbrenner's bill passed anyway. The bill pissed off the Catholic Church -- many priests said they would defy any law that prohibited them from ministering to illegal immigrants. Then hundreds of thousand began denouncing Sensenbrenner's bill in a wave of demonstrations. Apparently surprised by the backlash, Sensenbrenner is now accusing Dems for refusing comply to the misdemeanor amendment of his own bill.

The Washington Post reports: "In a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last week, Sensenbrenner charged that all but eight Democrats 'decided to play political game by voting to make all illegal immigrants felons.'"

Right, so now that he is realizing that his potential 'criminals' are real people putting up a real fight, Sensenbrenner says his idea of making 11 million people into insta-felons was perhaps, a bad idea, and blames his rivals for letting his bad idea make it through the Republican-controlled House intact.

Sensenbrenner isn't the only one trying to distance himself from the very bad idea of criminalizing millions of people. CNN reported yesterday that:

Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.