Mario Diaz-Balart spoke bluntly to his fellow U.S. House Republicans during a closed-door meeting at Washington’s Capitol Hill Club.
“Immigration is the 800-pound gorilla,” the Miami congressman told the room of vote-counting whips just seven days after last November’s election.
“The 800-pound gorilla just punched us in the face.”
Indeed, Hispanic voters had turned from Republicans in record numbers, in heavy measure because of the way the party’s candidates handled immigration.
But beyond the political numbers, Diaz-Balart said, the immigration policy data mattered even more.
About 11 million immigrants illegally live in the country. The system is broken. The time to fix it, he said, is during a non-election year.
“After I was done speaking, unlike in previous years, a huge number of my colleagues on the whip team came up to me to tell me it was time to do it,” Diaz-Balart told The Herald.
“What really changed,” he said, “was a willingness by many to confront the small handful of members who have been very vocal against doing anything, against doing anything realistic.”
That day, Nov. 13, marks not just a turning point in the immigration debate, but a significant moment in Diaz-Balart’s political career.
Today, the longtime lawmaker plays one of the most-crucial Washington roles in immigration that many have never heard about.