Immigration reform: Nothing ‘special’

Sen. Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) (James Crisp/Associated Press)

As bad as the last week has been for those railing against gay marriage, anti-immigration advocates (and there is some overlap between the two) have really taken it on the chin. The two hottest GOP stars seem to have agreed on the idea that immigration reform would not offer a special pathway to citizenship, but once immigrants qualified for green cards, they could pursue the same citizenship application process as others do. This is the only feasible basis for a deal with Democrats. It would also behoove the United States not to have a large minority population who is denied citizenship. (This hasn’t worked out very well in Europe.)

This is what Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Jake Tapper:

With the backing of the party apparatus, immigration reform might have a fighting chance. But it matters less whether anything passes under the Obama presidency, not known for its ability to forge bipartisan deals on complicated legislation. The important thing for Republicans is that they have moved on the issue and can now compete on equal terms with Democrats on this issue and for the attention of minority communities previously put off by their anti-immigrant posture. This doesn’t mean they will win the African American or Hispanic vote in 2014, but it does improve the GOP’s chances of doing better with these voters. That is essential to its future political survival.

Lost in the shuffle here is the policy argument: Immigration reform makes a lot of sense. As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued, “Imagine 12 million people who are already here coming out of the shadows to become new taxpayers. Twelve million more people assimilating into society. Twelve million more people being productive contributors.” That might begin to address some revenue problems on which the parties are deadlocked. Of course, once out of the shadows it is far more likely that these immigrants will get higher education, buy a home, start a business (which requires a loan) and fully participate in American society. This is unquestionably a good result.

And if Republicans are concerned about assimilation, which they should be, then GOP governors and other elected officials can champion English immersion courses, citizenship training and education reform. This is a prime example of accelerating upward mobility for those who aren’t rich but aspire to be so.

In sum, a consensus is building with the help of strong, popular conservatives. Immigration reform is good politics for the right, but more important, it is good policy for the country. In the inevitable tug toward inclusion and expansion of the American dream this would be an important step. As Paul put it:

I am a fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Marquez gives some advice that Republicans might consider: “human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, . . . life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

Likewise, Republicans need to give birth to a new attitude toward immigrants, an attitude that sees immigrants as assets not liabilities.

The same is true of America, in which each generation gives birth to a newer incarnation of itself. And no generation of Americans can or should expect to pull up the drawbridge behind it. To some that sentiment is appalling, but in fact it is the essence of the American experiment.

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