The Republican Party is a law and order party, and that’s why immigration reform gives us so much trouble. Illegal immigrants are, by definition, law-breakers, and conservatives are loath to reward that transgression with one of the greatest gifts a person can receive—American citizenship. Add to that the dubious claims that illegal immigrants are disproportionate consumers of government services and that they are more likely to commit crimes than others, and you have a potent brew for immigration reform obstructionism, particularly when it comes to so-called amnesty.
Most Republicans claim that they support immigration reform, and it’s little wonder. Our immigration system is a complete mess. It’s become, like so many parts of the federal government, a massive, unwieldy, ineffective bureaucracy.
No one prefers to come to the United States illegally. It’s filled with danger, from unscrupulous “coyotes” who are as likely to rape and murder their customers as bring them across the border, to the dangers of the deserts. And then, of course, there’s the constant threat of arrest and deportation. Surely, if there were an easy and effective way to bring people who are willing to work—and for whom there is always employment—to our country, illegal immigration would dry up like alcohol running over the Canadian border after prohibition was lifted.
President Obama is now making headlines with a push to reform our immigration system. If it is anything like his past efforts, we can expect a lot of talk and little action. But a gang of 8 Senators, four Republican and four Democrat, have beaten him to the punch. They have proposed an immigration reform bill that has a chance at working.
It contains several provisions Republicans will like, many of which were part of Governor Romney’s approach during the campaign. These include a robust e-verify system that requires employers to check immigration status before hiring workers. That alone should put a major dent in illegal immigration, as most immigrants are here for a job. It also includes tougher border security measures, always a favorite among Conservatives. And it will make it easier for people to come here legally. Immigration has always been good for the United States, and during some of the greatest eras in our history, our borders have been more or less open to those who seek a better life. But it’s the last proposal that will have conservatives up in arms—a path to citizenship for those here illegally.
Republicans are already starting to balk, obsessive in their absolute hatred of anything even approaching amnesty. Frankly, I think they need to get over it.
We are never going to round up 25 million people and ship them back to their home countries. It’s not going to happen. If it did, it would take a massive, jack-booted police force to accomplish, and we would be witnessing the 21st Century equivalent of the Trail of Tears. It’s impossible to imagine such a thing coming to pass, and if Republicans continue to push for it, they risk becoming a minority party for all time.
That’s especially true when it comes to the so-called “Dreamers.” These are the kids who have been in the United States all their lives, having been brought here when they were infants. They know nothing but America (some of them don’t even speak Spanish). Imagine for a moment someone knocked on your door and told you that you were being deported to Mexico. That’s pretty much what they are facing. If you think we should deport those kids, then I frankly don’t want you in my party.
Here’s the thing about amnesty. It’s never the preferred option. The people who need amnesty need it for a reason. Usually, amnesty is given for things much worse than crossing the border illegally. We didn’t punish every single Nazi, even those who were deep in Hitler’s war machine. We brought Warner von Braun to Huntsville, Alabama and made him the head of our rocket program. The Cambodian’s didn’t punish every high-ranking member of the Khmer Rouge, even though that regime killed 25% of the country’s population. For the sake of peace and stability, they gave them amnesty.
Here, we have millions of people who broke the law. They came to America, a country they had heard about since they were kids, a place where they could have a better life than in their homeland. For the sake of their families, they crossed the border without a green card, and they’ve been working here ever since. If you’ve ever built a house, they probable helped frame it. If you’ve ever eaten a piece of fruit, they probably helped pick it.
It’s time to rationalize our immigration system (Why, for instance, does a person escaping from Castro’s dictatorial regime automatically receive a green card upon reaching this country while a person escaping from Chavez’s dictatorial regime is deported?). And it is also time to start the people who are here on a path to citizenship.
Hispanics should be a Republican constituency. They are fiscally conservative. They are very conservative socially. But immigration is always in our way. Before they can hear us on the issues where there’s common ground, we have to cross the threshold issue of immigration. Most Hispanics do not support illegal immigration, but when they hear conservatives talk about it, they hear veiled racism. They hear “I don’t want brown people in my country.” And in politics, perception is everything.
If we don’t do anything about immigration, in 8 years, Texas will be a battleground state. And when that happens, you can forget about fiscal responsibility, your right to bear arms, and anything else Republicans hold dear. This is our moment. It’s time to seize it.