Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, sounded a downright pessimistic note on the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform during a panel on the subject at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference.
The tea-party favorite, who is a leader on immigration-reform efforts in the House, lashed out at Democrats for allowing labor unions to obstruct 2007 legislation, warning it could happen again.
“The Democratic Party has a problem right now. They have to pick between their two favorite children, they have to pick between the Hispanic groups and the labor unions,” Labrador said. “Every time they have to pick [between] those two groups they pick labor groups. Every single time.”
He blamed President Obama for backing an amendment that would have placed a time limit on the guest-worker program in the 2007 reform legislation while he was still a senator. Labrador said the amendment killed the overall reform efforts, even though there was vehement opposition to the legislation among many Republicans.
The GOP will not accept any legislation that doesn’t include a “vibrant guest-worker program,” he said.
Labor unions, represented by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, have been negotiating with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to come up with a workable guest-worker program. They released a set of principles in late February, but are still working on the details of a visa program. It is one of the tougher issues facing a group of eight senators drafting immigration legislation.
The AFL-CIO was quick to push back on Labrador’s comments. “It is astonishing that Raul Labrador, who to this day is unclear if he supports a realistic road map to citizenship for people who are Americans in every way except on paper, would blame unions for scuttling immigration reform in 2007,” said AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser. “The very same hateful right-wing talk radio that propelled Labrador’s beloved tea party to power in 2010 made legitimate, pro-immigrant reform impossible in 2007. Labrador should disavow hateful allies rather than attacking the working people who are fighting across the country for a roadmap to citizenship.”
Until the panel, Labrador had been largely positive about the prospect of working with Democrats on legislation.
“So far, the Democrats that I’ve worked with in the House, they want to get this solved,” he told National Journal in February. “These are people who have been working on the issue for years and they see this moment as a golden opportunity for us to fix the immigration problem.”
Labrador also said he was frustrated about the media portrayal of Republicans being the only party blocking immigration reform. Republicans, he said, need to stop blaming themselves for the problem.
"I know tone is important but we need to stop flagellating ourselves," he said of the party’s poor showing among Hispanics in the 2012 election. “Let’s stop talking about it and lets start just actually getting immigration reform done.”