WASHINGTON ---- A new level of provocation came to the immigration fight last week when Democratic members of Congress paraded a quartet of illegal immigrants on the Capitol grounds and used them as a backdrop to taunt the Republicans.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York, speaking Spanish to the cameras, counseled Latinos not to vote Republican.
"As long as Republican candidates cling to radical anti-immigrant ideology, they will lose another generation of Hispanic voters," she said in English.
Rep. Ruben Hinojosa of Texas accused Republicans of "a slap in the face." Rep. Silvestre Reyes, another Texan, accused likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney of being a "basher" of immigrants' hopes.
Though they stood just steps from the Capitol, they made no pretense that their appearance was anything but campaigning. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, the first speaker, took just 12 seconds to confess that he expects no legislative action this year on the DREAM Act, which would allow the foreign-born children of illegal immigrants (such as those standing with the lawmakers) to earn citizenship by going to college or serving in the military.
"The opposition toward immigration and opposition toward immigration reform runs too deep with the Republicans," Gutierrez said.
The politics for Democrats are irresistible. After a primary season in which Romney tried to outdo his Republican rivals in toughness on illegal immigration, he is shaking his Etch a Sketch with fury. Though he plainly announced his support for Arizona's law cracking down on illegal immigrants, he is now claiming he only supported one benign piece of it. He has also disowned Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and an immigration hard-liner, after embracing his advice during the primary.
Even within the GOP, pressure is building on Romney to soften his immigration position. As the Democrats were parading outside the Capitol's East Front Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a possible Romney vice presidential pick, announced that he wanted to find a way to allow the foreign-born children of illegal immigrants to remain legally in the United States.
But rather than embrace Rubio's olive branch (he is, after all, taking a position at odds with many in his party), the lawmakers, all from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, derided him as a "wolf in sheep's clothing."
This refusal to contemplate any sort of compromise will continue to stall the DREAM Act Democrats' cause of immigration reform. It's just one of many issues where consensus would be relatively easy but conflict proves more satisfying.
I was thinking about this because of what Vice President Joe Biden said in a speech Wednesday at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
"I know from experience," he said, "if you tried to do it all, you don't generate a consensus. And the single most important thing is for us to have a cultural consensus that this is a god-awful problem."
Biden was talking about the Violence Against Women Act, which he authored in the Senate. But if the administration had followed his advice, President Barack Obama might not have a health reform law in jeopardy before the Supreme Court and unified Republican opposition. Even on the renewal of Biden's Violence Against Women Act, Democrats broke the consensus by adding in new provisions regarding same-sex couples and illegal immigrants.
It's the same story on taxes and the debt, but immigration may be the issue most resistant to the obvious consensus: a need for both enforcement and legalization. At their event last week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus members were so hurried to score points that they tripped over their words.
Gutierrez spoke of an "electrical" map through Latino neighborhoods. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., also reaching for electoral, spoke of "this electrical season." All the talk of electricity took Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., back to a time before it was universal: "They have to make sure that this cycle, in 1912, we elect a ... Congress that will restore their dream."
The illegal immigrant young people, as it turned out, gave compelling accounts. Lucy Allain spoke about how she confronted Romney on immigration at an event a few months ago. A recent law-school grad, Jose Manuel Godinez, declared: "I'm undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid."
But rather than hear such tales, the lawmakers departed after their own statements, drawing the reporters and cameras with them.
"I think we lost half of our crowd," observed the organizer, Erika Andiola.
"They had to vote," explained Gutierrez, who promptly disappeared as well.
Andiola, noticing that some lawmakers were instead granting TV interviews, asked a staffer if "they really have to vote."