The Republican debate on November 22 proved to be an eye-opener as presidential hopefuls debated the often factious issue of illegal immigration. Typically, candidates in GOP primaries move rightward as they try to prove their right wing credentials. Only when the primary is over, the nominee will try to reach independents at the center of the political spectrum.
During the televised debate, three views on illegal immigration had emerged. All the candidates agreed that building a stronger border fence was a surety of any serious immigration proposal, but they disagreed about what to do with an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country.
Rep. Michele Bachmann presented a position furthest to the right advocating the mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants and rejecting any pathway to citizenship as amnesty. Bachmann summarized her view succinctly here. It's a hope-and-pray model where you bury your head in the sand hoping illegal immigrants come forward to deport themselves out of respect for the "rule of law." Never mind that it's a lofty expectation that even citizens don't follow, including those who have yet to turn themselves in for exceeding speed limits or breaking various traffic laws.
Governor Mitt Romney, on the other hand, didn't want to concede he believed in mass deportation. He refused to draw a line in the sand about who gets to stay and who has to leave. In the past, he has rejected mass deportation saying illegal immigrants should be able to stay and sign up for permanent residency or citizenship. However, his position has hardened over the years. He now believes they should volunteer to go home for the application process.
Gingrich provided probably the most comprehensive immigration plan on the platform that night - one which he was prepared to take some heat. Gingrich supported deporting illegal immigrants recently arriving to the country, but rejected uprooting those who've been in place for 25+ years for obvious reasons.
Gingrich prefers a guest worker program that uses a smart card system that tracks temporary workers. This is how it would work: private employers would set up satellite offices in foreign countries to recruit workers for American projects. Employers would conduct criminal background checks on workers assisted by the county of their national origin. Red cards with embedded microchips containing photographs, fingerprints, and other biometric data would be distributed to border patrol to facilitate the process.
In theory, the incentive to work in the country legally should be powerful enough to shrink the illegal workers' market, thus crowding out illegal workers and reducing the overall number of illegal immigrants. The Bracero Program of the 1960s - replete with its many labor abuses - was effective at reducing border apprehensions by 95%, and therefore showing that guest worker programs do work.
Newt Gingrich was right. He took lumps from the anti-immigrant crowd. But Gingrich made an astute point during the debate that should be stressed here. Republicans espouse a pro-family platform, yet many of them do not hesitate to promote a policy that would displace good families over a civil misdemeanor. For an infraction carrying the legal weight of a speeding violation, some Republicans are willing to dismember entire families to make a point. And what is that point really?
We're told that the United States is a nation of laws. We cannot turn a blind eye to lawbreaking while rewarding illegals with pathways to legal residency or citizenship. Yet, law enforcement officers routinely turn a blind eye to traffic violators every time they let drivers go with warnings. Are we a nation of laws or not?
What would the "nation of laws" crowd say about the failed prohibition policy of the 1920s? In 1920, Congress passed a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting the manufacturing, sales, and transportation of intoxicating liquors. It was reversed, however, when the realization set in that the policy was misguided and ineffective.
If we were to use the logic in the 20s that Republicans use today, alcohol would still be prohibited and underground liquor sales would be one more reason our prisons are overcrowded. Like Prohibition, today's immigration policies aren't working and haven't worked for decades. Do we hide behind the "nation of laws" catchphrase, or do we problem-solve our way to comprehensive reform?
We've said before: the GOP needs to adopt a plan that doesn't substantially disrupt an already fiscally fragile economy. Rejecting thoughtful alternatives out-of-hand as amnesty reveals a xenophobic prejudice closing the mind to workable solutions and off-putting the problem to subsequent generations.
The GOP is on a current collision course with a rapidly growing Hispanic community. By 2020, Hispanics will make up more than 50% of the Texan population. Waging battle against the largest and fastest growing minority group in the country may result in the loss of Texas and the thirty-four electoral votes that go with it. Think about it.