“So be it”.. those were former Rep. Tom Tancredo’s words when it was pointed out to him that his harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric would inevitably drive away Hispanic voters from the GOP. The nihilistic, self-defeating, attitude encapsulated in Tancredo’s remark is partly responsible for the election of President Obama. Thankfully, one can now detect a change in the wind among conservatives and within the GOP on immigration reform.
As readers of this blog know, I support comprehensive immigration reform that includes an “earned legalization” program for undocumented immigrants. I am persuaded that comprehensive reform is both in our national interest and that it is the moral course of action on this issue.
The anti-immigrant rhetoric adopted by some in the GOP, particularly during President Bush’s failed attempt at enacting reform in 2007, hurts our ability to attracted Hispanic voters nationally. This is not to say that Hispanic voters are single-issue voters, nor that adopting a pro-reform posture is some sort of magic silver-bullet that will, standing alone, dramatically improve our performance with this key demographic group. However, a growing number of Republican leaders seem to recognize that it is a piece of the puzzle. Here, there is a convergence between doing what is right for America, and what is in the long-term best interests of the GOP.
Signs of Hope
For example, last weekend’s CPAC conference included a panel discussion on “The Rise of Latino Conservatism.” The panelists recognized that attracting more Hispanics is critical to the future of the conservative movement and the GOP. At the same time, they also discussed the need to persuade conservatives to support comprehensive immigration reform.
The CPAC panel was sponsored by a group known as the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. The group’s press release indicates that they “will campaign among Latino voters and invest substantial resources to support pro-immigration candidates who are committed to fundamental conservative values and ideals.”
The Wall Street Journal has also noticed a change in the wind:
Some high-profile Republicans are adopting a softer vocabulary on immigration and trying to recruit more Hispanic candidates, a response to the party’s soul-searching about tactics that many strategists believe have alienated the country’s fastest-growing voter bloc…
For Republicans, such efforts carry risks, especially as conservative activists try to push GOP candidates to be more ideologically pure. Opposition to “amnesty,” a buzzword used by critics of proposals to legalize the 12 million illegal immigrants believed to be living in the U.S., remains a reliable applause line.
Nonetheless, many in the party have concluded that opposition to immigration legislation, a debate that is sometimes racially charged, has alienated millions of otherwise conservative Hispanic voters.
Republicans won just 31% of Hispanic votes in the 2008 presidential election, according to exit polls, down from more than 40% four years earlier, as the party took a hard line on immigration policy. That was a big factor in handing President Barack Obama his Electoral College victory and a seven-point win over Republican Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.). If current demographic and voting trends continue, Hispanics’ growing share of the electorate could make Republican electoral college victories a near impossibility as early as 2020.
(emphasis added). To quote Whit Ayres, and state the obvious, “If Republicans don’t do better among Hispanics, we’re not going to be talking about how to get Florida back in the Republican column, we’re going to be talking about how not to lose Texas.”
These developments are also a hopeful sign that our Party is getting serious about solving the problem of undocumented immigrants and fixing our antiquated immigration system.
As Senator John McCain noted in remarks concerning efforts to reform our immigration system in 2007, comprehensive reform that includes an “earned legalization” program is not a reward to law-breakers, but rather: “recognizes the problems inherent in the current system and provides a logical and effective means to address these problems… We have a national interest in identifying [unauthorized immigrants], incentivizing them to come forward out of the shadows, go through security background checks, pay back taxes, pay penalties for breaking the law, learn to speak English, and regularize their status. Anyone who thinks this goal can be achieved without providing an eventual path to a permanent legal status is not serious about solving this problem.”
As I’ve said before, the absence of realistic alternatives weighs heavily in favor of comprehensive reform and earned legalization.
A massive round-up and deportation of the millions of unauthorized immigrants in the United States is not feasible from a practical perspective and would, if carried out, lead to immense human suffering and disruption to our own economy. It would entail the disruption of well-established family units, the deportation of heads of households, and the removal of many United States citizen children born to undocumented parents.
Setting aside the human toll, such a policy would also be extremely costly for the United States. According to U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement, rounding up and removing our undocumented population would cost as much as $100 billion dollars or more. Other estimates are higher, ranging up to $230 billion. Long term, according to the Center for American Progress, the removal of our undocumented immigrant population would result in a cumulative $2.6 trillion drop in our GDP over a decade. Given the forgoing, as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has recently noted, deporting, or jailing, upwards of 12 million undocumented immigrants is neither a workable, nor a practical, solution.
Similarly, merely permitting the present status quo to continue indefinitely into the future is not a morally defensible course of action. As the USCCB has observed, an “immigration policy that allows people to live here and contribute to society for years but refuses to offer them the opportunity to achieve legal status does not serve the common good.”
“A party that thinks it can win elections by alienating Latinos is going to be in the minority for a very long time.” The tired rhetoric against undocumented immigrants may still get applause, but it is a long-term prescription for irrelevancy. Thankfully, there are hopeful signs that a growing number of Republican leaders realize this.