Republicans Are Foolish to Ignore Immigration Reform

The Republican Party is hurting itself by taking immigration reform off the table.

Recently, the Republican leadership announced that it was killing any possibility of immigration reform during this midterm election year. This runs counter to the party’s desire to court the Latino vote — a growing political force to be reckoned with. And it marks a hasty turnaround.

In late January, the GOP introduced a set of principles on immigration reform. These included recycled conservative policies of punitive enforcement measures, such as enhanced border security, advanced tracking system, employer-based verification, legal reforms, relief for some undocumented youth and a vague form of legal status for those who qualify.

This harsh and deeply flawed set of principles didn’t include a key component for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants: a clear pathway to citizenship. But at least the party showed some inclination to restart the national discourse on our broken immigration policy.

Now, by abandoning those principles, the Republican leadership is content to do nothing. As a consequence, it is dashing whatever remaining fantasies the Republicans had of gaining ground with Latinos.

Ironically, Republicans had an opening to attack President Obama on this issue. Obama remains on a record pace to deport more than two million undocumented immigrants, and he continues to militarize the U.S.–Mexico border — two deeply unpopular policies with Latinos. But by shirking immigration reform, a key issue for Latinos, the Republican leadership has let Obama and the Democratic Party off the hook.

The Republican leadership, which includes House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., capitulated to the extremists in their party and to cowardly House Republicans who dread to be challenged from anti-immigrant tea party candidates. Essentially, these leaders gave their colleagues who are vulnerable some cover by choosing not to put the issue on the agenda.

Thus, the stranglehold that the extreme right has on the GOP has prevented it from moving forward toward meaningful immigration reform. The party put petty politics over the public good.

By not addressing the needs of the Latinos, the GOP leadership continues to disrespect this diverse ethnic group. It is also acting in a self-destructive way by disregarding the demographic changes occurring in this country. With a population of more than 50 million, Latinos constitute the largest minority group in America, with a growing presence all across the country.

President George W. Bush and his adviser Karl Rove understood the need to reach out to Latino voters, something that was lost on Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. Romney’s anti-immigrant views (remember “self-deporting”?) helped propel three-fourths of Latinos to vote for Obama.

It looks like the Republicans still haven’t learned this lesson. They stand to lose more Latino votes this November. And if they continue to disrespect Latinos in 2016, they will pay the price, again, in the 2016 president election.

By following this path, the Grand Old Party will soon become the Grand Obsolete Party.
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Alvaro Huerta, a UCLA visiting scholar at the Chicano Studies Research Center, is the author of “Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Toward a Humanistic Paradigm” (San Diego State University Press, 2013). He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org. Copyright Alvaro Huerta.

Photo: Flickr user Ministério das Relações Exteriores, creative commons licensed.