Republicans Can Win the Immigration Reform Battle

Arizona’s new strict anti-immigration law SB 1070 is the most recent and loudest salvo in the immigration debate. President Obama and the Democratic leadership announced that their next legislative priority will be tackling that open sore of American public policy. But instead of fighting them tooth and nail, Republicans should steal the Democrats’ thunder and propose their own version of immigration reform that goes beyond enforcement. Unlike passing legislation like SB 1070 in Arizona, it’s the “conservative” thing to do and it makes political sense.

Former President Bush garnered roughly 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004. That’s because they typically vote like other working-class Americans. But Republican pronouncements about deporting every illegal immigrant could destroy that political balance and shift them into a permanent Democratic voting bloc.

41 percent of Hispanics feared a deportation action against a friend or family member. Family values-oriented conservatives should understand that no matter a person’s politics, he will do anything to defend his family. That’s especially true for Hispanics, who tend to be very family values oriented. That includes forsaking every other political opinion he has and voting for the political party that he thinks won’t deport his grandmother.

Deportation rhetoric only pushes Hispanics, a natural conservative constituency, away from the Republican Party. They tend to be socially conservative and hostile to confiscatory taxes and regulation. They are generally poor but hard-working and entrepreneurial. Most of them have recent bad memories of confiscatory left-wing Latin American governments. They sound and act like conservatives and a reasonable Republican position on immigration could politically capture them.

Republicans should propose a reform that makes legal migration easier, cheaper, and quicker. It shouldn’t take over a decade for a lucky low-skilled Mexican worker to get a green card. A responsible middle ground on amnesty also needs to be proposed. 10.8 million illegal immigrants are not all going to be deported or convinced to leave. Fees, fines, language requirements, prohibiting access to government benefits and more in exchange for a path to legal status are smart and realistic conservative compromises.

Former House leader Dick Armey recently said, “Who in the Republican Party was the genius that said that now that we have identified the fastest-growing voting demographic in America, let’s go out and alienate them? . . . The Republican Party is the most naturally talented party at losing its natural constituents in the history of the world. This party was born with the emancipation proclamation and can’t get a black vote to save its life. How do they do that? Well, the same thing with the Hispanics.”

Republicans are traditionally the political party that fights against economic regulation. If that is still true, they should take a principled stand against big-government measures like E-Verify and a national biometric ID card that put enormous burdens on business. They should also welcome legalization and increased legal flows of future migrants. It would steal the Democratic Party’s thunder, make the Republicans the pro-immigration party, and open up political opportunities in major cities closed to Republicans for decades.

Besides the political opportunities, increasing legal migration is the only immigration policy option for conservatives. Take competitive free markets. Conservatives know that business competition improves standards of living. Therefore we should welcome more immigrants, not shun them. Real conservatives are not afraid of economic competition.

Conservatives rightly value the rule of law and national security. Security provides an environment where the law can be applied equally while the law provides a framework through which security can be legitimized. But our current immigration laws would require a police state to enforce consistently.

Conservatives understand the threat of Islamist terrorism in the post-9/11 world. Instead of wasting scarce security resources keeping out the millions of Indian and Chinese computer programmers and low-skilled laborers, we should devote those border resources to blocking security threats. An immigration policy that weeds out suspected terrorists and criminals will focus law enforcement, not continually dissipate it in a vain attempt to manipulate labor markets.

Finally, to uphold an old American tradition, Conservatives should support legal mass migration. This nation was founded by immigrants. English, Irish, Scottish, German, and Swedish immigrants dominated the 13 colonies before independence. Conservatives should especially remember that one of the complaints against King George III written in the Declaration of Independence was that:

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

The Tea Parties have harkened back to the Founding Fathers and their original intent. They are right to do so, but we should also take the words of the Founders seriously.

Basing our immigration policy on American traditions, support for free-markets, and in defense of the rule of law will guarantee the Republicans political victory and grant our nation prosperity. Like most policies that are good for America, a reasonable stand on legalization that drops deportation rhetoric and supports legal mass migration are the Conservative things to do.