GOP Better Leave the Light On
By Dave Spencer, August 21, 2015
The way the immigration debate is currently heading within the Republican Party, you may soon see these words on the Statue of Liberty:
Don't give me your tired, your poorThere used to be a conventional formula for winning the Presidency. Introduce yourself to the country as a moderate during the primaries, then, as the election nears, tack to the right or the left, depending on your party. Bill Clinton did this as a New Democrat, George W. Bush as a Compassionate Conservative. If you play your cards right, when the general election comes around, most people remember you more as the conciliator you originally portrayed, than the more partisan figure you've gradually become. That sleight of hand is what helps a candidate win entrée to the White House.
Keep your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore will not get over our wall.
Send back these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door--don't let it hit you on the way out!
But in this current political environment, it's gotten to the point where many of the Republican candidates are so threatened by the party's archconservative wing, they're falling over one another to appear tougher on immigration than the next guy. The radical "solutions" being proposed, such as repealing the 14th Amendment to end birthright citizenship, are so preposterous and illogical they defy rational thought, because in addition to the fact it would never pass, these extremist positions brand the entire party as anti-Hispanic, estranging a critical voting bloc that could cost the GOP the election.
A pragmatist only has to look at the hard numbers. According to projections by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the number of Latinos eligible to vote by 2016 will increase to about 28 million people, more than 11 percent of the voting populace. That's up from 23 million and 10 percent in 2012. And every month, almost 50,000 new Latinos become eligible to vote.
In 2004, George Bush received 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. In 2008, John McCain got 31 percent and in 2012, Mitt Romney tallied 27 percent. Based on an analysis by Latino Decisions, in a best-case scenario for 2016, a Republican candidate would need at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote to win the presidency and in a worst-case scenario, more than 50 percent. Given the current GOP political climate, I have a better chance of winning the Boston Marathon (with my artificial leg) than that happening.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, 75 percent of Americans believe illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country if certain conditions are met. And a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds among Republicans voters surveyed, 36 percent support a pathway that eventually allows people in the U.S. illegally to become citizens and 17 percent favor a legal status short of citizenship, for a total of 53 percent.
Why is the national consensus in favor of positive immigration reform? Common sense points to three answers. First, despite what you hear from those on the far Right, we're still a humane country that appreciates sacrifice, hard work and wanting a better life. Second, trying to expel 11 million undocumented immigrants would cost an estimated $400-600 billion dollars, not to mention a nightmare of logistics. Third, if we actually deported all 11 million immigrants, the U.S. economy would collapse.
In addition, the GOP wants the underpriced labor and the Democrats want the votes, further exacerbating an already-paralyzed Washington environment. And securing the border is a red herring because more than 40 percent of illegals came legally, but overstayed their visas. Net immigration from Mexico over the last few years is also close to zero.
Here's how a practical Republican might look at immigration, since the goal is to craft legislation that will actually pass. Legal status may be more appealing to Congress than full citizenship, so a compromise would be to create a program where undocumented immigrants have to register, pay taxes and take part in an e-verification system. Most undocumented immigrants in this country are far more concerned about being harassed and possibly deported than they are about whether they're eligible for citizenship. Yes, there should be an eventual path to citizenship, but if we start with legal status, we may be able to break through the current gridlock.
A clear majority of Americans want immigration reform and more sensible candidates must recognize that if the party doesn't improve its performance among Hispanic voters, a Republican will not occupy the Oval Office. If we don't carry the torch of freedom, the GOP will surely get burned in 2016.