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The GOP and Immigration – Post Election Posturing?

It took Governor Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama in the presidential election for some key GOP members to finally admit the party made fundamental mistakes in its position on immigration. Now GOP representatives are engaged in a post-election reassessment of their stance on immigration. Governor Romney’s pronouncement that undocumented immigrants should just “self-deport,” and his position that he would not accept any further Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) cases after his inauguration, backfired and alienated Hispanic voters. Governor Romney’s campaign outreach advisor to the Hispanic community, Carlos Gutierrez, stated that the extremist xenophobes in the Republican party scared Hispanics. Could it be possible that in the next few months or next Congressional term that we will finally see the first significant immigration reform since 1990? More importantly, will it be humane immigration or just a few narrow new benefits tempered with more enforcement that continues to split families? Or is all the latest GOP introspection just short-term post-election posturing and blaming? Will any new bills introduced by the GOP benefit immigrants, their families and employers or will these bills be just for show? Will anti-immigrant forces continue to successfully block any constructive fixes to our broken immigration system?

The conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute, is holding a teleconference on November 19 to discuss “Conservatives and Immigration: Now What?” Meanwhile, on December 4th and 5th there will be a bipartisan national convening in Washington DC, Forging Consensus – The National Strategy Session: Forging a Path Forward on Immigration involving a wide ranging group of representatives from faith, law enforcement and business organizations. Coalitions have formed among the technology industry, faith groups, law enforcement, farm growers and immigrant groups to work together to propose bi-partisan immigration reform legislation. Whether Congress will come up with a large comprehensive immigration reform plan or smaller fixes remains to be seen. It will depend largely on the level of acrimony in Congress after first working on the “fiscal cliff. It will also depend upon educating Congressional freshmen who may not have knowledge about immigration details beyond campaign rhetoric.

On November 10, 2012, NPR reported in Republicans Scramble to Repair Breach with Hispanics about efforts by various Republican legislators and strategists to “get right with Hispanics” in light of overwhelming Latino votes for President Obama as well as Maryland’s landslide majority of voters that approved in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant college students. This wake-up call for the GOP stems from ignoring the reality of demographics in America, not just on immigration issues, but also the passage of gay marriage and legalized marijuana bills across the US. 58% of Maryland voters approved in-state tuition for undocumented students consistent with polling across America that shows broad support, or 65% of all voters in all parties, that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to regularize their status in the US.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S. Carolina) said today on “Face the Nation” that he is planning to work with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to introduce an immigration reform bill that acknowledges the issues Hispanics face so long as the borders are tight and people follow the law, learn English, pay their taxes and “get in the back of the line before citizenship”. Sen. Graham said “…I intend not to reload this gun when it comes to Hispanics. I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that’s an American solution to an American problem.”

Meanwhile, Senator Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” today that “I think we have a darned good chance using this blueprint [referring to work they started two years ago] to get something done this year. The Republican Party has learned that being anti-immigrant doesn’t work for them politically. And they know it.”

The trend for politicians and pundits to “evolve” on important social issues continues. The day after the election, conservative TV personality, Sean Hannity, announced that his position on immigration had “evolved” to now be in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Even conservative Speaker of the House, John Boehner conceded that “a comprehensive approach [to immigration reform] is long overdue.” Without, of course, acknowledging President Obama’s record breaking deportations as Deporter-in-Chief, Rep. Boehner stated the President has to lead on border enforcement.

Could this really mean Congress will come up with a legalization program or a more restricted program such as a DREAM Act or a DREAM Act Lite? Only time will tell. If the GOP decides to go after the hearts and minds of Hispanics who are perceived to be fairly conservative on most issues unrelated to immigration, the big question is whether Democrats will allow the GOP to hijack the issue. Moreover, the reality is that President Obama and the Democrats really never did accomplish much over the last few decades to improve the lives of immigrants or to make business immigration any easier. In his first term, President Obama never presented a clear vision to the American people nor a plan to Congress to consider a reform bill. He deported more people than any president before him and split up thousands of families in the process. Hopefully, immigration will be put to a debate on the floor of the Congress during the coming year, as most Americans feel it is time we dealt with the issue.