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 DemocraticThe 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.
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.