Can immigration save the GOP?

Governor Bill Richardson (Ambassador to the United Nations, 1997-1998) and Eric P. Serna

Cross-posted from Governor Richardson and Mr. Serna’s December 23, 2013 opinion piece in The Taos News.


As Democrats, it has been interesting to watch the GOP battle — not us — but each other as they try to save their Republican brand. In a giving spirit of the season, we offer a couple observations to our friends across the aisle.

For the past six years Republicans have been the party of “No!” to any constructive proposal to fix our recovering economy and assist our ailing families. Increasing working poor class, poverty and hungry children, elders, and a still recovering business sector need all our help.

We have had a health care system that is the leading cause of family bankruptcies. The continual attempts to deny health care to people with the latest de jour complaint is hardly constructive. The Republican shutdown of the government because they failed to deny health care to millions of people in need will be remembered by voters.

There is a growing perception Republicans are out of touch with the American mainstream. They need a real win somewhere.  Passing an immigration bill could finally put that win in the Republican column.

The Senate has already passed an immigration bill and is awaiting the Republican-controlled House to act. The Senate bill, such as it is, does show that Democrats and Republicans can get things done together.

Hundreds of more pragmatic Republicans, organizations, religious leaders and business — even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — are now aggressively pushing their party to pass an immigration bill.  Even conservative Republican leaders are trying to get this social and economic and political imperative done.

To do this, they still need to quell some of their more strident colleagues. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), an immigrant himself, is a key travieso (troublemaker) in their midst. Cruz led the government shutdown debacle and has also been an ardent opponent of immigration reform. Containing him and his camp remains the party’s challenge.

And although the immigration bill on the table today can hardly be considered comprehensive, it could take 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows of society and help replenish the pool of cheap labor.

And wouldn’t it be ironic if Latinos end up saving the Republican Party on this issue? Passing an immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship could help Republicans reform their image of being anti-Latino. Remember, presidential candidate George W. Bush captured nearly 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004. Getting 44 percent today would be a “dream act” for them. With midterm elections right around the corner, passing an immigration bill could entice Latino voters to their side.

Whatever form it takes, the final immigration reform bill will not be the proudest moment in our relationship with Mexico, one of our most important world trade partners.

The litany of extreme measures in the Senate bill call for spending additional billions for building a larger version of the Berlin wall; doubling the number of  border cops so that they could be stationed within shouting distance of each other across our southern border. Drones, helicopters and ships, all would be employed to capture people who commit a misdemeanor infraction — the equivalent of jaywalking — by being undocumented.

Despite the myths, these tireless workers contribute more than they take from us in many ways. The undocumented also imbue core (Republican?) values of self-reliance, a strong work ethic, and strong family and faith values.  Seems like these folks should be honored instead of vilified.

Whatever bill does get passed — and it would be a first step — it will still take time before anti-immigrant passions subside and we look for more sensible solutions to deal with this vibrant labor and consumer market.

Perhaps, we might revisit an idea advanced by President Bush: He had proposed the North America Union in 2000 with Canada and Mexico. It would have been loosely modeled after the European Union in which 29 countries allow the free flow of currency, goods and services — and people — without the irrational hysterics we seem preoccupied with. Alas, that Union was shot down by his own Republican extremists.

Still, with respect to immigration, the GOP should be longing for the days of President Bush. We are.



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