The Washington Post

Be bold on immigration reform

The Post reports: “After an election that bared the GOP’s huge disadvantages on immigration, three influential Republican senators have introduced legislation that would grant legal residency to young people brought illegally to the United States, if they seek higher education or enlist in the military. The proposal comes as more Republicans have called for the party to soften its opposition to illegal immigration in the wake of massive November electoral losses that were driven, in part, by low support among Latino voters.”

Unfortunately, two of the three Republicans (Texas’s Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Arizona’s Jon Kyl) are leaving the Senate, so I concur entirely with the Democratic operative who was quoted saying that it’s “not exactly a profile in courage” for them to drop this on the way out the door.

Still, any move on immigration reform by Republicans deserves encouragement. By carving out a group of unauthorized immigrants brought here as children for legalization, a Dream Act-type reform would, at the very least, help narrow the numbers of the remaining illegal immigrants whose status is a sticking point with anti-reform forces.

However, the proposal nevertheless leaves a lot to be desired and provides a cautionary lesson for the GOP. Anyone in the grass-roots or in office seeking to move the issue along should take heed.

First, it’s too little and too late, which gets the GOP virtually no credit. It follows the president’s unilateral move to address the children brought here illegally by their parents. Saying “me too” is really not a winning move in politics, even if this would make permanent through appropriately drafted and passed legislation what the president did by an extra-constitutional, unilateral executive order. (Note that pols never win with voters on procedural arguments.)

Second, the report notes, “Although the lawmakers said they have had productive conversations with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has been working on his own alternative to the Dream Act and has become a leading voice within the GOP on immigration reform, he indicated that he is soliciting input from stakeholders and is not ready to be a co-sponsor.” The message here is that Republicans should not sit around waiting for Rubio to decide what he wants to do. Waiting around for a Rubio proposal last summer allowed the president to leapfrog Republicans and get credit for the issue.

Rubio is a star in the GOP, but he has an eye on 2016 and may be, ironically, excessively cautious on this issue rather than the one to lead the party. The good news is that he is not the only conservative favorite who can move this issue forward.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — who was a forceful leader on the issue in the House — are two of those quite capable of taking the bull by the horns. It is a mistake to hang a policy initiative on one person, especially one as controversial as this, which will require involvement of grass-roots groups, think tanks, House and Senate members and conservative pundits.

Third, this is one issue in which starting small may be an error. “Comprehensive” immigration reform got a bad name when last it went down the drain in 2007. But arguably the GOP and certainly the country has changed since then. If you are going to go to the trouble of devising a proposal and take on the anti-immigration forces to jump-start the process, it makes sense to go bold.

The 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States should be addressed in a GOP plan, understanding that one always wants to leave a little room for bargaining. But to try to sidestep that issue while border security, worksite enforcement, H1-B visas and other discrete issues are addressed is not realistic. Even if the GOP were to put out a plan with a time requirement (for example, focusing on anyone here longer than 15 years), the debate would get started in a meaningful way.

Republicans did nothing on health care for years at the national level. This allowed the Democrats to make it their issue and eventually gave us the abomination known as Obamacare. Immigration, if left to Democrats, will either become their issue permanently and a policy nightmare or, alternatively, an opportunity for conservative reformers to show they can govern effectively and realistically while hewing to conservative principles. All the GOP needs are real leaders to step up to the plate.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.


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