As an immigrant, married to a fellow immigrant, I have to say I am puzzled that some conservatives are urging the Republican Party to embrace amnesty for illegal immigration in the wake of Tuesday’s election–even those who otherwise think the GOP should reaffirm its commitment to conservative principles. Doing so would gain few Hispanic votes while sacrificing more of the core supporters Republicans left at home.
Yes, Democrats did better among Hispanics. They were the only ethnic group among whom Obama and his party netted more votes in 2012 than they did in 2008 (even black turnout was down overall). And Obama’s unconstitutional use of executive power earlier this year to suspend deportations of so-called “Dreamers” was probably part of the reason. But if Republicans cave on amnesty, the lesson for Hispanic voters will not be that Republicans care, too. It will be that voting for Democrats achieves the desired result. They will do so again.
Meanwhile, Republicans will alienate core supporters–immigrants among them–who support the party because of its professed commitment to the constitution, the rule of law, and fighting crime. Myself included.
The rule of law is what makes the American economy a safe place for entrepreneurs to take risks and for investors to place their money. It is also what distinguishes–or once distinguished–the United States from the arbitrary, statist regimes that many immigrants left behind in their countries of origin. Fundamentally, the rule of law in the United States is what draws hopeful immigrants to this country–even illegal ones, who believe their personal and often desperate transgression is a small aberration that cannot possibly affect the whole.
Many of us who went through the process legally would be outraged at the idea that others should be able to avoid doing so. It should be possible to make that process easier, more affordable, and less complicated. But telling those legal immigrants who made the sacrifices necessary to become citizens the right way that their commitment to this country’s laws was unnecessary would be an insult not soon or easily forgotten.
The debate about the Hispanic vote ignores two critical facts. One is that the Republican Party has been far better for Hispanics than the Democratic Party–and not by pandering. The GOP has more Hispanic elected officials, and at higher levels. During the Bush administration, the Democrats persecuted Hispanic appointees both before and after they took office–a cynical record for which Republicans did not make them pay. Today, two of the most promising young Hispanic political leaders–Rubio and Cruz–are Tea Party conservatives.
The other fact is that Hispanics are no longer the fastest-growing immigrant group in the United States. Asian immigrants are–and Asian-Americans are natural conservatives who embrace hard work and religious values while opposing discriminatory policies of affirmative action that serve to exclude them from universities and other opportunities. The fact that Obama won Asian-Americans by a staggering margin of 71% to 27% is a sign that Republicans are not doing the necessary job of reaching out. Doing so would not require changing the party’s fundamental principles and policies, but rather new media tactics and old fashioned face time.
The country has wrestled with the fraught issue of immigration for several years, and arrived at a rough national consensus: secure the border first, and then find a reasonable solution for illegal immigrants who are already here that does not guarantee citizenship and does not gloss over the fact that many (though not all) broke the law to get here. Neither as a Senator, nor as President, has Barack Obama shown any real interest in reaching that solution. Instead, he has preserved the issue as a festering wound for political purposes.
If Republicans capitulate to that, and to the conventional wisdom of the pundit class around this issue, then the GOP will look even less like a viable opposition than it is now. Fred Barnes writes in the Wall Street Journal that Republicans should abandon “loose talk” about immigration, as if opposition to amnesty were motivated by bigotry. (And this in a newspaper that recently referred to grass-roots conservatives as “hobbits.”) Certainly both parties could benefit from less divisive rhetoric. But the loose talk about amnesty among Republican elites is neither rational nor forward-thinking. It is a formula for continued political failure.