Congressional Republicans who are “just playing politics” with comprehensive immigration reform can “retire and go back home,” Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, tells Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview.
“This will take some courage,” Cardenas tells Newsmax. “There are some members who say: ‘You know what, I only have 5 percent Hispanics in my district. Why get burned on the issue politically?’
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“My answer to them is: ‘Well, why be in Congress? You're supposed to be our public servant. You're supposed to be courageous. You're supposed to take a firm line on issues that need your assistance as a public servant to pass the right laws,’” Cardenas says.
“To do what's politically convenient and expedient is not deserving of the state or the country right now. We need leaders in Congress who can show some courage and can show some conviction.”
Last month, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill on a 68-32 vote that was backed by 14 Republicans. It includes provisions for a pathway to citizenship and increased border security.
The vote, which came on legislation introduced by the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators in April, sent the bill to the House of Representatives for consideration.
But the GOP-controlled House has said that it will not vote on such a huge Senate bill, opting instead to address immigration reform through individual bills.
And House Speaker John Boehner, who vowed that the lower chamber would not take an "Obamacare-like" approach to immigration reform, has pledged to not bring any such legislation to the floor for a vote unless it has the support of most of his party's members.
Republicans have consistently attacked the Senate bill, saying it amounts to little more than amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants; that it does little to strengthen the nation's borders; and that the Democratic leadership was rushing complex legislation into law.
Cardenas, 61, whose family came to the United States from Cuba, was a Florida co-chairman of Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign and the 1978 Republican opponent to long-time Democratic Rep. Claude Pepper. He heads the nation’s oldest and most influential conservative organization, which sponsors the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
The Miami-based lawyer has served both as vice chairman and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Cardenas also has served on the Executive Committee of the Republican Party, the highest policy-making board of the Republican National Committee.
He was the first Hispanic to lead a major state party and remains the only Hispanic Republican Party Chairman in Florida history.
For Cardenas, who holds degrees from Florida Atlantic University and Seton Hall University, comprehensive immigration reform is as much personal as political.
“I worked every day since I was 12 years old mowing lawns and selling doughnuts door-to-door — delivering papers in middle school, high school, and cleaning offices my first years in college after work and parking cars on weekends,” he tells Newsmax. “These are people that I lived amongst because I was one of them: People who wanted a safer old clunker so they could stop taking three buses to get to work. People who were doing the best they could to save their meager existence to pay for a humble wedding for their daughters.
“For me, it's a matter of the heart — and I'm a firm believer that there has to be a conservative solution to every challenge in America or else why be a conservative? Conservative principles apply to every challenge that this country faces, and I'm a firm believer that the House can come up with conservative principles that can make us all proud.”
Cardenas adds: “America without a proper immigration policy is doomed to the same fate that most of Western Europe and Japan are. They have aging populations, declining populations, less productivity, and their GDP records compare — basically — to Russia, to Canada, to Brazil, to China, to India.
“If we want to be competitive, we have to grow our country's population smartly,” he says. “We've got to redo our immigration policy. Right now, our legal immigration policy, 85 to 90 percent of people who come here, it's either for family reunification or for a lottery. What's with that? That's no way to plan our country's growth and prosperity.
“Conservatives need to get to work. They need to pass border and internal security measures that befit who we are as conservatives. We need to pass market-based demands for employment to fix our legal immigration programs — and, yes, we need to give legal status to the people who are here.”
Cardenas fully understands the risks involved in pushing for legalizing immigrants.
“Legalization makes sense. These people are working here already. They're in the shadows. They're not being as productive as they could be, but they've been trained. They don't pay taxes. They live in a shadow environment — and we need to legalize the process and do away with what the president has done, which is against the rule of law.
“Just the de facto amnesty without penalties, without assimilation, without paying taxes. What the president has done is instill probably one of the most lawless systems we've ever had in America.”
He tells Newsmax that he remains confident that the House will bring forth stronger immigration reforms than in the Senate’s bill.
“The House can do a better job. We're a conservative chamber. We can redo immigration reform. We can make it the way we want it to be. We can start from a blank canvas and then go in with an open mind to the conference committee and try to come up with a bill that's acceptable to conservatives and is certainly a vast improvement over what we have now.
“We don’t' want to be known as the 'party of no' or the 'movement of no,'” Cardenas adds. “We've got to be known as the 'party in the movement of solutions' — and immigration reform needs a solution.”
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