One could argue whether immigration reform is the right thing to do for the country from economic, religious and humanitarian points of view, but this piece addresses why it’s the right thing to do for the survival of the Republican Party.
Then Governor George W. Bush and Karl Rove were ahead of their time in 2000 when they embraced immigration reform, which allowed President Bush in the 2004 election to win 44% of the Hispanic American vote. President Bush followed in the tradition of President Reagan and other major Republicans, including Republican nominee John McCain in embracing immigration reform and developing and supporting the basic elements of broad-based – yes, comprehensive – immigration reform included in Senate Bill 744 passed in June 2013 and contained in a series of separate pending House bills. However, since 2006, at least in perception if not in deed, the Republican Party has moved to a harder position on immigration which essentially is limited to “seal the border first before we can discuss broader reform.” This argument has been made in spite of the fact that Congress in successive sessions has appropriated billions of dollars for sealing the border and by any measure we have the most secure southern border than at any time in American history. Having served as then Governor Bush’s policy advisor on immigration in the 2000 presidential campaign, he recognized that broad based immigration reform was part and parcel of any rational border enforcement. As he told me, “Why should we have our Border Patrol gang tackling aliens at the border when they turn out to be someone’s favorite construction worker, nanny or strawberry picker?” He asked why not route those needed workers into a legal program so that the Border Patrol could focus on the bad actors? Immigration reform includes a viable temporary worker program for needed foreign workers where there is a proven shortage of U.S. workers.
Virtually every political leader within the Republican Party realizes that deporting and removing 11 million people from the United States is a non-starter. Even if it was technically feasible, not only would it be the biggest and most costly law enforcement undertaking since World War II, it would cause an economic and humanitarian wreck. It would destroy large segments of the economy in agriculture, housing, construction, restaurants and hotels and it would leave many U.S. citizen children and spouses without any means of support. Immigration reform does not have to include an automatic pathway to citizenship, but at the very least it must provide for those without a criminal record who pay a fine and commit to learning English and civics, a long-term legal status where after 10-15 years they would have to qualify like anyone else for permanent residency or so-called “green card” status.
Furthermore, our economy and country suffers when our great educational institutions graduate at the highest level some of the brightest people in the world and the chances of remaining legally in the U.S. are very limited, given the fact that temporary work visa and immigrant work visa quotas are so restrictive and at best only about 1/3 can qualify to remain legally in the U.S.
It is clear that the Republican Party in national elections will continue to lose one state after another over the issue of immigration. Reliable red states like Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico have one by one fallen into the Democratic column. Any elementary analysis of the demographics of Texas and other states show that it is just a question of how many more election cycles before Texas and other reliable red states will turn blue. Dr. Stephen Kleinberg of Rice University points out that a majority of Texans under the age of 18 are already Hispanic Americans. Just do the math. President Bush received 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but it fell to 32% with candidate John McCain in 2008 and to 27% with candidate Governor Romney in 2012. Worse, in the toss up states like Colorado, Romney received an even lower percentage of the Hispanic American vote, easily tipping the state into the Democratic column. Florida Republicans got the message. A Republican bill supported by conservative Republican Governor Rick Scott just passed providing for in-state tuition to undocumented students residing in Florida. Texas Republican candidates didn’t get the message and advocate the repeal of the Republican in-state legislation signed by Governor Perry.
Of equal concern, are the Asian American voters, the fastest growing demographic. Statistically, Asian American voters are higher educated with a higher income than Anglo American voters, which should mean reliable Republican voters. This was true as late as the last election of Bill Clinton, who only received 36% of the Asian American vote, yet by 2012 Barack Obama, given the perception of the position of the Republican Party on immigrants, received 75% of the Asian American vote.
It is often said that by voting for immigration reform, the Republicans will not automatically be rewarded by Hispanic American voters. While this may be true, what is equally true is that until the immigration issue is taken off the table, the Republican Party will not be able to compete for those voters on the basis of its sound economic, fiscally conservative policies and, particularly for Hispanic American voters, pro-family policies.
In short, those Republicans who stand in the way of immigration reform for short term political gains are ultimately leading the Republican Party toward a permanent minority status where it will not elect another President nor have another nominee to the Supreme Court or to any Federal judgeship.