Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Road to El Dorado

As Obama’s second year in office begins to pick up steam, one of his primary campaign promises has yet to be addressed.  However, as suggests, the administration will begin to push for immigration reform in 2010.  If they are wise, Republicans will take the lead and beat the Democrats out of the gate.  Not only is immigration an important issue but successful handling of reform could reap political rewards for the GOP.

If Republicans fail to offer a concrete proposal they run the risk of being portrayed as obstructionist.  This has been all too evident in the political quagmire that has become healthcare reform.  Rather than playing defense against a filibuster-proof Senate, Republicans need take the offense and offer solid, well articulated policy.  The need to frame the debate is important for two reasons.

First, as in healthcare, there are divergent principles at issue and the deck is already stacked against conservative ideals.  The Democrats’ first salvo will all but obliterate any Republican counter-attack.  In order to jumpstart the type of honest national debate that was absent in the healthcare process, Republicans need to get their ideas out first.

Primarily, the GOP needs to emphasize that the rule of law has to be maintained under any system.  Individuals who violate laws, whether immigration or otherwise, cannot be allowed to reap the benefits.  However, simultaneously, Republicans must emphasize that this is a pro-immigrant policy.  Immigration has been and will continue to be the backbone of this country.  The majority of, if not all, Americans are descended from or are immigrants.  Any Republican plan should trumpet this fact.  Upholding the rule of law means supporting the honest and hardworking immigrants, who choose to make the legal journey to citizenship or other legal status.  It does not mean penalizing them by rewarding those that chose an illegal method.

This is important in light of the second reason:  the Hispanic vote.  As a recent article in The Economist reports, Hispanics are one of the fastest growing populations in America.  Although, as a second article in The Economist reports, they voted approximately two-to-one in favor of Obama in 2008, they are far from a solid Democratic force.  The article states:
In a fair number of keenly contested states, the Hispanic population in effect holds the balance of power; and as long as they continue to vote solidly Democratic (as they did in 2008, by a whopping 67-31% margin), that is great news for the blue party. The big Hispanic vote for Barack Obama in Florida turned that vital state from Republican to Democratic; the Hispanic vote also proved crucial in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. It is not impossible to imagine that, in time, Texas’s huge Hispanic population could turn America’s second-largest state Democratic

If the Republicans want to avoid that fearful fate, they need to reconnect with Hispanic voters, and fast. In principle it ought not to be too hard. Culturally conservative, strongly religious, family-oriented and with a long and distinguished tradition of service in America’s armed forces, Hispanics are natural Republicans. But they are also, on the average, poorer than whites, and they are rightly incensed at anything that smacks of xenophobia.
The Republicans would be wise to heed this poignant analysis. By articulating an immigration policy that appeals to Hispanics and conservative principles, the GOP would not only fend off attacks from the Left but possibly be able to swing a number of blue states in their favor (such as New Jersey which just elected a Republican governor).  Furthermore, a successful policy maneuver will redeem the opposition Republicans’ image and give broad swaths of voters a renewed confidence in the Party’s ability to lead.  If they fail to appropriately frame the debate, the GOP will not only be demonized by the Democrats as racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant, but will likely lose the chance at capturing the increasingly important Hispanic vote.


  1. Josh--

    First of all, I should point out that I don't have any strong views on this issue (though I agree it is a hugely important one, for a variety of very good reasons).

    I agree that the GOP has to get out in front of this issue, at least from a political standpoint (plus I'm not for the brand of unregulated immigration that Democrats usually seem to push for). But Republicans are in a tight spot: as The Economist (and simple reality) points out, Republicans need the Hispanic vote; interestingly, Bush won over Hispanics in 2000, but not 2004 and obviously not in 2008. Hope is there -- particularly as many Hispanics are Catholic.

    But taking a tough line on immigration, as you point out, is hazardous for a party looking to appear inclusive and not exclusive. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe ex-Florida Sen. Mel Martinez was the one Hispanic GOP congressman in either house. Clearly, more representation is needed by the GOP.

    But what cost are they willing to pay? Are they willing to recognize Spanish as a second language in some states, for instance? Are they willing to get real about economic help for the extremely poor? (The business-friendly GOP is caught between wanting cheap labor but bucking at the prospect of unrestricted immigration.)

    I don't think this is an impossible issue for Republicans to lead on, especially since there is a vacuum for leadership on this issue (Bush ultimately washed his hands of it towards the end of his second term, and the McCain-Kennedy reform bill went nowhere).

    But it will be more difficult for the GOP to discuss it now, I think, at a time when the Tea Party movement is becoming more and more mainstream. Anything less than a hard line against immigration -- precisely the antithesis to the "big tent" philosophy from which you speak -- will alienate the fringe base that is, sadly, becoming less and less fringe with each Sarah Palin speaking engagement.

    My question to you is: what exactly does today's GOP need to offer/propose to win over Hispanics, and ultimately a nation that is predisposed towards the Democrats on this issue?


  2. Karl~

    Well I think you point to some very real limitations which I am afraid may hamstring the GOP. Those to some degree will serve as a test of whether the Republicans are ready to lead again or still choose to narrow themselves to an isolated segment of the party. As I am sure you know I am all for expanding the party. I think the Tea Party movement has much to offer the GOP, but I don't think it should be the be all and end all of Republicanism.

    I think the Republicans should make it clear that there is not an inherent contradiction between being pro-immigrant and for the rule of law. This has often been made unclear by both the xenophobic right and the far left. For instance, and I haven't spend a huge amount of time contemplating a precise policy package, I think the right should propose more, easier, and better ways for immigrants to come to America - for a variety of reasons: citizenship, working, studying etc. Different paths would have different responsibilities and different benefits. However, this needs to be coupled with a strong committment to the upholding of the rule of law. Violators should be punished and most certainly should not be rewarded (through education access to welfare benefits etc).

    I think this would appease many on the right and many Hispancis (along with the typical conservative values of family that appeal to them).



  3. Josh & Karl,

    I think you both raise good points and strong questions. I agree completely that all of us are or or are descended from immigrants to this land. Even the aboriginal inhabitants who were in residence when the Eurpoeans landed on America's shores are believed to have immigrated here from elsewhere. However, the one key point that I should like to make is that having first-hand experience as a witness to the immigration debate in AZ is that NOONE will allow ANY debate on the subject of immigration to not be bogged down by inflammatory and vitriolic rhetoric on the subject of RACE!!!

    In AZ, it seems as if a member of the GOP can't even raise the subject of immigration reform without drawing criticizm and charges of racism from the Democrats and most notably the Hispanic community. And this has been further exacerbated repeatedly by left-wing liberals who call ANY attempt to limit illegal immigrant access to benefits, especially but not limited to healthcare, racist, elitist and any other PC incorrect label that gets bandied about.

    For the years that I have lived in AZ during which Janet Napolitano was governor, I saw nothing productive come out of ANY debate or discussion of the issue of immigration. And so far, it doesn't appear that her replacement, Gov. Jan Brewer will be significantly more successful.

    I'm sure that the above comments will draw a spate of ire from our liberal friends on the issue. But my observations are mine and that's the way I see it.

  4. Paul~

    So what do you propose then? I'm not one to throw up my hands and say "It is too difficult, we can't even get started talking". I absolutely agree that the race-issue has been a tool, particularly of the Left, to stymie political debate. For the good of the country and the minorities supposedly represented by the Left this has to change.

    So maybe one tactic is this, first come out strong from the Right with the aspects of immigration reform that are pro-immigrant and then after it takes the heat of the race-card sails follow it with the pro-security items. In other words, offer up a proposal for temporary or long-term worker permits and rework the visa process to allow easier legal immigration. I think the Left would be hard pressed to call a GOP senator that was proposing an easier way to immigrate a racist. I'm just winging an idea here, but I don't see how the GOP cannot try. What do you think?

    Thanks for reading



"Reading makes a full man, meditation a profound man, discourse a clear man." - Benjamin Franklin

Please leave comments!