To a surprising extent, there seems to be a change in tone and very likely on policy substance among top Republicans on the issue of immigration reform. This doesn’t mean, not by a long shot, that there is not resistance to comprehensive (or even less-than-comprehensive) immigration reform on the right. To the contrary, it’s fair to say that the Republican Party is very divided, although the volume of the voices on the immigration exclusion side is so loud it often gives the impression that they speak for the whole party.
It is interesting, however, that the arguments from the right opposing immigration reform, to be blunt, are so lame. It only takes a few minutes thought to dispel some of the most frequently heard arguments against comprehensive immigration reform that includes a solution for the 11 million or so people already here illegally.
1. “It is amnesty.”
For starters that invective doesn’t explain what is wrong with the idea. But as to the substance, it is a misuse of the word. Most proponents of a “path to citizenship” would look at some penalty (monetary or otherwise) for those who came here in violation of law. It is not amnesty to select a punishment less than deportation and then pursue a real-world solution to the issue.
2. “It’s contrary to our belief in ‘law and order.’ ”
Actually the current system — in which millions don’t pay income tax, the immigration laws are not enforced, a market in phony documents flourishes, employers hire people under the table and we in effect encourage human smuggling — is lawlessness personified. Turning a blind eye to all that in the name of the “rule of law” is surely among the most hypocritical aspects of the immigration debate.
3. “Support for legalizing 11 million people won’t solve the GOP’s problem with Hispanics.”
Again, the straw man burns easily. No one thinks that immigration reform alone will endear Hispanics to the GOP. Thanks to the rhetoric of those most loudly resisting a change in approach, Republicans have gotten slapped with the anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic label. So yes, the exclusionists did a very thorough job poisoning the well for Republicans. However, it is also the case that appeals to Hispanics on a slew of other issues will fall on deaf ears so long as, in the words of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Republicans still want to deport their grandmothers.
Moreover, there are good policy reasons (reduction in smuggling, bringing millions into the income tax system, etc.) for pursuing reform. And if you want to make this about pure politics (nothing wrong with that) it is not as if Republicans must win a majority of votes from Hispanics (or Asians or other non-white group) to improve their electoral position. If Romney had won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, for example, he’d be picking his cabinet right now.
And finally, reform-minded Republicans don’t propose that the GOP should support immigration reform and then ignore Hispanic voters. To the contrary, many of them are in favor of broad-based appeals and innovative policy ideas that would attract not only Hispanics and Asians, but all Americans.
4. “It’s not fair to let them go in front of people ‘waiting in line.’ ” That is a symptom of our current broken immigration system and not an excuse for refusing to reform it. How many people are waiting how long, and why aren’t they already here pursuing the American dream? Certainly a comprehensive immigration system should look at all these people, determine if there are valid reasons (health, criminal background, etc.) for keeping them on ice and, if not, fast track them through the system.
5. “We should just do border security and then talk about the rest later.” Actually in 2007 the plan supported by President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had a two-step process in which border security came up front, but immigration exclusionists didn’t like that. But let’s get real. A two-step process most likely is not a politically viable arrangement in 2012, and it only aggravates both the policy (e.g. more people not paying taxes for a longer time) and political problems (how many more presidential elections do Republicans want to lose?).