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June 24, 2013

When winning is losing

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

When you hold a political affiliation for 30 years, it’s hard to let it go. Harder still when the holder’s basic ideology stays the same, yet the party flops all over the philosophical map.


Harder yet when the affiliation-holder also serves in political office for a decade, therefore becoming part of the problem, not just an outsider throwing darts.


Many people change their affiliation from Democrat to Republican, or vice versa. Their reasons are familiar: their former party became too liberal, or maybe too intolerant. Rarer is the change from an identified affiliation to an unaffiliated status.


In that context of surrendering a party affiliation, punditry makes more sense; it seems to have increased the ability to see across the idea divide.


It is through that lens that the current national debate over immigration reform will be examined. Basically a fiscal conservative and social moderate, reforming our failed system of immigration always seemed to make sense to me. It made sense when President Ronald Reagan first proposed it; it made sense when former President George Bush pursued it, and it makes just as much sense now.


We can stipulate that there are between 10 and 13 million people in this country illegally. They came in on a work or student visa and stayed beyond the limit. The entered the country illegally in the first place, either by crossing the southern border in the dark of night, or hiding in a boat that dropped them on the southeast or southwest coast. Maybe they were born to a mother who herself had chosen one of these illegal paths, and now find themselves growing up quasi-American.


A majority of these people have work and contribute to their relocated home. Many pay taxes through their employment, even more take advantage of whatever social services are provided for them. Fewer of them directly participate in our electoral system, but that is changing as progressive state governments make it easier to cast a ballot by removing verification and monitoring mechanisms.


In a sadly repetitive cycle, we seem to argue about how to handle these people every few years. Currently, the U.S. Congress is back at it again.


A group of eight U.S. senators (referred to as the Gang of Eight) have crafted a bill to create a path to legal citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally. A component of that path includes the payment of financial penalties, a mandatory waiting period, criminal background checks, and a demonstration of their commitment to our nation.


We’ve been here before. The aforementioned Great Communicator, President Reagan, embraced the idea of reforming immigration laws because he had dealt with the policy implications of a failed system when he served as the governor of California.


California is in the thick of the controversy, and always has been. President Reagan saw that; he understood the implications for southern California businesses that were dependent on these workers, like food service, agriculture and hospitality.


President Reagan embraced the idea because he believed America is strengthened, not weakened, by people who seek to establish residence here to capture their piece of the American Dream. He understood the great power of a well-managed immigration system, one that rewards hard work, dedication and commitment while securing the border from drugs, terrorism and crime.


What President Reagan didn’t understand was that his ideological opposites, the Democrats, were interested in growing the ranks of people inclined to vote for their candidates in future state and national elections, not to keep the promises they were willing to make to solicit his support of reform.


To wit, all of the language in the bill that he signed relative to securing our border as a prerequisite to reform was simply ignored. The bill delivered on the first promise, the amnesty of millions of illegal immigrants, but failed to build the fencing and install personnel and technology on the border.


We find ourselves right back at the same intersection today. The bill drafted by the Gang of Eight, including four Republican senators, has essentially the same structure as did the bill Ronald Reagan signed. Sen. Charles Schumer (D., NY) is the primary author, but no doubt the Obama Administration has had an active hand in the drafting.


In order to build a bridge to the growing Hispanic community, a group of Republican senators have decided to sign on to this reform initiative. Old senate GOP hands such as Arizona’s John McCain and South Carolinian Lindsey Graham were quick to suggest the time was right. Fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake also committed to push for broad reform. New to this initiative, but even more significant is Marco Rubio (R., FL), the darling of the Tea Party and conservative movement.


Senator Rubio has been careful to pick his battles so far, a sign of political maturity previously not seen among freshmen. In this case, though, his Hispanic heritage has as much to do with political advantage. He has the wisdom to see that opposing a path to citizenship for immigrants already here, and mostly Hispanic, will do more to damage the national GOP brand than anything else.


Radio talk mouthpiece Laura Ingraham (a.k.a. Fingernails-on-a-chalkboard) is saying that any Republican who advocates for this amnesty approach should be defeated in their next election. She suggests that only Democrats will benefit from making more illegal immigrants suddenly legal and therefore voters.


She might be right, but then again, she might not.


Here’s what we do know: Hispanic voters are already supporting Democrats by wide margins. In the last two presidential elections, national polls placed Hispanic voter preference in the Democratic Party column by somewhere between 60-65%. Sorry, Laura, but that’s not even close.


Why, you ask? Because Democrats have taken pandering to minority voters to an art form, that’s why. In addition to heaping large sums of money into no-strings social programs (medical care, in-state college tuition), they have prioritized making it as easy as possible for a non-voter to become a voter.


When you examine issues of faith (many Hispanics are devout, traditional Catholics) and family, these immigrants might be more in line with GOP voters and values. Not when it comes to citizenship and voting, though.


If the Tea Party and ultra conservatives wish to press the case against helping those already here become legitimate citizens, the future of the national Republican Party looks increasingly bleak. Even without reform, there will be more Hispanic and minority voters. As they already know that they have friends in the Democratic Party, it won’t be hard to also align their votes.


If the GOP were to reject the politics of ignorance and figure out how to:

1. Secure the border

2. Develop a useable worker ID system

3. Require compensation and compliance in exchange for citizenship

4. Authorize status for those who fully comply;


Then you can expect that Hillary Clinton will be the next president, that the House majority will be in jeopardy, and even safe governor’s races across the country will become more competitive for the GOP.


It isn’t hard to figure out. Reject them outright, and they will seek out and support the other party. Do it long enough, and you won’t even have a party (Tea or otherwise) to defend. Talk about losers…


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