A draft resolution “calling on the Republican National Committee to end funding and endorsements for any candidate who deviates from three or more of its ten planks” is circulating within the RNC. The proposal contains a provision dealing with immigration that is particularly troubling to me. Specifically, it states: “(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants.”
I was not aware that the Tancredo/Buchanan position on immigration reform had become conservative canon law. For my own part, I think it is a serious mistake to pander to the nativist elements within the Republican coalition on this issue. I support comprehensive immigration reform which would include some type of amnesty program (specifically, earned legalization) for undocumented aliens who have resided here without committing any serious criminal offenses. More broadly, I think adopting a nativist stance on immigration reform and amnesty is extraordinarily short sighted; it is essential for the GOP to reach out to Hispanic and Asian American voters in order for it to continue as a viable national party.
Ironically, given the draft resolution’s invocation of President Reagan’s “unity principle,” paragraph 5’s provision opposing amnesty also runs counter to Ronald Reagan’s legacy. It was the Gipper himself, after all, who pushed for, and signed into law, the biggest amnesty we’ve ever had in 1986. Consider:
One myth currently [i.e. in 2006] popular on the political right is that the immigration debate pits populist conservatives in the Ronald Reagan mold against Big Business “elites” who’ve hijacked the Republican Party. It’s closer to the truth to say that what’s really being hijacked here is the Gipper’s reputation.
One of the Reagan Presidency’s symbolic highlights was the July 3, 1986, celebration of a refurbished Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the gateway for immigrants a century ago. (Readers can find Reagan’s entire speech that evening at www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches.) To Reagan, the conservative optimist, immigration was a vital part of his vision of this country as “a shining city upon a Hill,” in the John Winthrop phrase he quoted so often. It was proof that America remained a land of opportunity, a nation built on the idea of liberty rather than on the “blood and soil” conservatism of Old Europe…..
It’s true that in November 1986 Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which included more money for border police and employer sanctions. The Gipper was a practical politician who bowed that year to one of the periodic anti-immigration uprisings from the GOP’s nativist wing. But even as he signed that bill, he also insisted on a provision for legalizing immigrants already in the U.S. — that is, he supported “amnesty.”
In his signing statement, Reagan declared that “We have consistently supported a legalization program which is both generous to the alien and fair to the countless thousands of people throughout the world who seek legally to come to America. The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.”…
[Reagan] always avoided the temptation to join [immigration panics], no doubt realizing that they were short-sighted politically, and, more important, inconsistent with his vision of America as the last best hope of mankind.
More recently, of course, President Bush also supported an amnesty program as part of the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007.
I am a conservative optimist. I believe our immigration laws should serve our national interest while, at the same time, respecting the inherent human dignity of immigrants (through things like family reunification, for example ). These two principles complement one other. I think our current system does neither well. A pathway to legal status for some of our undocumented population must be a piece of any attempt at comprehensive immigration reform.
In my view, comprehensive immigration reform must include the creation of an “earned legalization” program, which includes a path to legal status, including ultimately naturalization, for undocumented aliens (including overstays and others who have slipped out of status) who reside/work in the US and have not committed any felony criminal offenses. I also think taking English-language courses, and the payment of a small fine (or alternatively, the fulfillment of a community service obligation) could be legitimate components of such a program. It should also include the provisions of the DREAM Act, which would have created a path to naturalization for the children of undocumented aliens (under certain conditions). It must contain a “guest worker” program- one which realistically addresses the demand for undocumented workers in certain industries in our economy. Finally, comprehensive immigration reform must also remedy the present deplorable, unconscionable, situation in which families are often divided due to long visa waiting times and processing delays- in other words, it should foster family unity.
Obviously, our federal government has a duty to secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws. An amnesty program would not subvert these critical goals; on the contrary, I am persuaded that it would complement them.
Paragraph 5, as written, is both short-sighted politically and a break with Reagan’s vision of America and her purpose in the world. Opposing amnesty proposals for undocumented aliens has not been, and ought not to be, a central tenant of our Party. Republicans would do well to resist the temptation to pander to populist/nativist sentiment on this issue and instead lead the fight for comprehensive immigration reform in the tradition of President’s Reagan and Bush.