The GOP Should Stick to Values in the Immigration Debate

Some people say that Republicans have made mistakes when it comes to Hispanic voters.  They point out that Hispanics are a growing part of the population, and assert that GOP opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants is driving Hispanics away. 
The talking point has been commonly used to dismiss Republican views in major policy debates, including most recently the GOP concerns about how illegal immigrants benefit from the House health care bill.

Most of the people who make these claims are Democrats.  And they are right – Republicans do need to change some things to win the Hispanic vote.  But our position on amnesty is not one of them.

A false choice is often presented to Republicans:  support amnesty or offend Hispanic voters. 

But support for amnesty is not a panacea for GOP appeal to Hispanics and opposition is not a vote-loser.  In the 1986 election, for example, after a Republican president signed into law the largest amnesty for illegal aliens in American history, only 23% of Hispanics voted for Republican candidates. 

As for amnesty, a William C. Velasquez Institute exit poll found that only 1.6% of Hispanic voters in 2008 considered immigration as the most important issue in choosing a President.

Republicans can successfully appeal to Hispanics – both native-born and legal immigrants — by focusing on the fundamental values of patriotism, rule of law, freedom, family, support for small businesses and jobs, and education.  It’s what President Bush did in 2004 when he received 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.  His Spanish-language ads focused on values and small-business issues, not immigration.

When we do talk about immigration, Republicans should advocate for the rule of law.  We do so against the backdrop of the most generous legal-immigration system in the world. 

The United States has a wonderful tradition of welcoming newcomers.  We admit more than one million legal immigrants a year, far more than any other country.   About 38 million immigrants are now living in the U.S.: they form the highest percentage of our population in almost a century.  And it’s no surprise that so many people want to come here: we are the freest and most prosperous nation in the world, and our freedom and prosperity depend on the rule of law.

Not only does America benefit immigrants, but immigrants benefit America.  Immigrants are laborers, educators, entrepreneurs, athletes, inventors, scientists, CEOs and politicians. 

There is a difference, though, between those who play by the rules, wait their turn, and come in the right way and those who don’t. 

Republicans must approach any immigration debate by understanding the desires of those who enter illegally.  Our hearts go out to them; most are hard-working, decent people.  If we were in their shoes, we might want to come to the U.S. too.

But we must draw a line between legal and illegal, right and wrong.  We must do right by standing up for citizens and legal immigrants alike.  

It’s the immigrant communities who are hit the hardest by those who enter illegally.  Illegal immigrants depress their wages and take their jobs, just like they do the wages and jobs of American workers.  According to the Center for Immigration Studies, low-skilled workers lose an average of $1,800 a year because of competition with illegal immigrants.  That’s a huge economic hit — the difference between making or missing mortgage or car payments.

We must not allow Democrats to insult hardworking legal immigrants and citizens with hollow proclamations about ‘jobs Americans won’t do.’  Any honest job is a worthy job.  And any available job should go to American citizens or legal immigrants. 

Republicans should not buy into the falsehood that Hispanics care about only one issue.  Like many Americans, Hispanics look to us for leadership on issues that affect every aspect of American life – jobs, health care, taxes, national security, schools and the environment. 

Congress must make tough choices.  If we put our country first, we will make the right decisions.  And if we talk to Hispanic voters about small government, conservative values, and American ideals it will bind us instead of divide us and strengthen the GOP by attracting Hispanics’ support.