Time to cut a deal on immigration

posted at 9:41 am on November 13, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Has the time come to cut our losses on immigration reform and try to get what we can in a deal? In my column today at The Week, I argue that the prospect of another four years of divided governance in Washington means another four years of unsecured borders and a broken visa system without agreeing to compromise, which should be unacceptable to everyone.  Nearly a decade of waiting for total control and an insistence on a hard-line solution hasn’t brought us any closer to political victory, either:

Republicans have expressed considerable interest in moving forward now as a way to address their credibility deficit with Latino voters.  Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) has already announced new bipartisan talks with New York Democrat Chuck Schumer. That has the GOP base worried that Republicans will cave on amnesty, especially without any enforcement at all. However, even those proposals that did come forward over the last few years had staged rollouts, which required  enforcement milestones before any kind of normalization started. The Schumer-Graham talks appear to be following the same pattern, at least according to National Journal report, which describes a four-part process: border security, revamping Social Security identification and verification along with employer penalties, starting a temporary worker program, with normalization left to the end.

That may still be anathema to the GOP base, but it’s becoming clear that the base’s approach won’t work. The insistence on demanding nothing but the hardline approach creates big problems for the nation and the GOP itself. First, the issue of border security has been left in limbo for more than 11 years after 9/11, and more than seven years after the 9/11 Commission rightly demanded better security on both borders, and the broken visa program that offers no follow-up on expired entries. If we continue to punt rather than compromise, we will be left waiting for at least four more years to get any kind of solution.

Plus, continued obstruction means that immigration reform will continue to hang around the GOP’s neck like an albatross. Hardliners argue that a Republican compromise won’t convince Latinos to shift to the Republican Party, and they’re correct in the short run. However, it’s difficult to make the kind of free-market and family values pitches that might make some serious inroads with Latino voters when Republican candidates and activists talk about deportations — self-initiated or otherwise — of family, friends, and others within their communities. That conversation has lasted far too long, and it has caused significant damage.

Frankly, I’m more concerned about the border issue than winning Hispanic voters at this point.  We’ve been fortunate so far that we haven’t had more infiltration than we’ve seen across either border, but that good fortune won’t last forever.  We need to address both that and the visa system that doesn’t produce any follow-up on violators.  We have waited since 2007 to win back control of Washington to win a solution on our terms rather than a compromise that would both pass more quickly and spread the political risk.

Now that we’ve lost the presidential election, we won’t have that opportunity for another four years.  We still have the House, though, and that gives us leverage to insist on prioritizing border security and visa reform ahead of normalization for those illegal aliens in the US.  In two years, on the current trajectory, we may not even have that much, and there is no guarantee that a Republican will win the presidency in 2016, either.  If we continue to punt on border security over an insistence that 11 million people will have to leave the country in order to stay here, we risk losing any influence over the solution with another bad electoral cycle.

Will that win Hispanic voters?  Not in the short run, as I note in my column.  Ramesh Ponnuru makes a good point in his column today at Bloomberg:

Republican views on immigration, and the way they express those views, must play a role in how poorly Republicans do with Hispanics. Republicans haven’t found a way to reassure conservative voters that the country will respect the rule of law without also making Hispanics think that the party is hostile to them. A way out of this predicament doesn’t immediately suggest itself.

Even if a solution were found, though, the growing number of Hispanic voters would continue to mean trouble for Republicans. Hispanics are disproportionately poor and uninsured. And like people of other races in similar situations, they tend to have views on economic policy that align with the Democrats. In California, for example, Hispanics helped get Democratic GovernorJerry Brown’s tax increases approved on Election Day. A Republican Party that is associated with repealing Obama’s health-care legislation — and not with any alternative plan to get people health insurance — is going to get trounced among these voters.

Public support for same-sex marriage has risen a lot, among young people especially, and the Republican Party will have to soften its opposition to it. Again, though, there is an economic dimension to the party’s trouble. Young people are also less economically secure than the middle-aged and the retired who vote Republican more frequently. That has to play a role in the way they vote. What have Republicans up and down the ticket offered to address the concerns of economically stressed young people? A vague promise to create more jobs; an entitlement reform that, even viewed charitably, would do nothing for them here and now.

The long-term solution to winning Hispanic voters is economics, without a doubt.  But as one Hispanic Republican from Arizona wrote yesterday, these voters won’t listen to the economic pitch while the party insists on hard-line solutions that will negatively impact their communities by deportation, self-initiated or otherwise:

Growing up my father (a Mexican national) taught me the importance of having three basic priorities that should govern my life. These priorities were to always place God first, family second, and work/school third above everything else. After the spanking the Republicans  received this last election day, it seems as if we as a party could benefit from considering these priorities, especially when it comes to the family.  I understand that not every Hispanic person is the same, nor is every Mexican American for that matter. But I do believe that these priorities are important and relatable to the Hispanic and Latino community. While the GOP tends to do a great job at defending religious liberty and is the most active in the defense of the unborn, it seems to neglect one of the most important priorities – family and fails miserably at communicating the third – work/education.

If Republicans wish to gain back the support of the Latino vote, especially that of the Mexican Americans in many southwestern states, then we need to end the rhetorical attacks on their families. Hispanics are not going to vote for any candidate whom they  think is going to deport their abuelita or go after their parents, husbands or wives.  They also will not support candidates of a party who want to end birthright citizenship. If we are to be the party of family values which I believe we are, then we must let go of our rhetoric and reach out in good faith to work towards some form of immigration reform just as George W. Bush tried to do. Conservatives seem to think and fear that Hispanics are inherently liberal. I disagree. The Democratic party does not hold our values; but neither do they pander to the immigration enforcement only crowd as republicans tend to do. I am not calling for open borders or lax enforcement. I am suggesting that we use our enforcement resources on the border and go after the criminals and the cartels, meanwhile, finding a humane way to keep families united and help build a better future for America and the Republican Party. When the Republicans finally embrace pro-family policies and cease the rhetoric that has been perceived as anti-Hispanic, then the door will be opened for further dialogue.

We have a limited window for an immigration reform package that addresses the most pressing conservative concerns of national security and regulatory reform.  Waiting another four years and hoping that Democrats disappear from power is not a strategy that is likely to bring us closer to success on those issues.  While we still have a seat at the table, we need to get immigration reform resolved and off the table so that we can start addressing economic policies — and give voters an opening to listen.

Addendum: Bear in mind that while we’ve waited for years to impose our own solution to this issue, all of the attendant problems of a porous border and failed visa program continue to accrue.  Shall we wait through four more years of that?

Update: I’m seeing various forms of comments like this: “I think a lot of this emanates from the unspoken fear of an Obama second term and its ramifications for conservative blogs…”  Like I responded in the comments, that can only come from an ignorance of practically everything I’ve ever written on this issue.  I have always had a borders-and-visas-first, all-else-is-negotiable position on immigration reform.  The reason I’m writing this now … again … is that our window for even getting that much is closing.


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