As the co-founder and president of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, I must state that conservatives are not of one mind on this issue. Many, if not a majority of conservatives, have a much more nuanced and dare I say compassionate perspective on the issue of immigration reform than the one advocated by Governor Romney. His philosophy was representative of the most extreme and Nativist elements of the conservative wing of the Republican Party. He was out of the mainstream.
I have insisted, and continue to insist, that the mainstream of conservative thought on the subject of immigration reform was exemplified much more by President Reagan, than by candidate Romney. Many of us are old enough to remember that it was President Reagan that signed into law the last immigration reform legislation back in 1986.
President Reagan’s immigration bill was not perfect, and the execution of his policy’s initiatives was fundamentally flawed. It was these flaws, and not the fundamental policy that Reagan advocated, that are responsible for the illegal immigration problems that we are now experiencing. However, now we have the technology and hindsight that will enable us to re-set and update the Reagan philosophy for the 21st century – and it will work.
There is a fear that is somewhat pervasive in many areas of the country. Many people fear the fact that our nation is fast becoming a majority minority country. While that trend is inevitable, it does frighten many people, and we have to recognize and attempt to mitigate against that problem. Our organization, and faith groups around the country, are taking a lead role in working to alleviate that fear of the “stranger.”
On a personal note, having lived for the past 40 plus years in Los Angeles, I have lived through the experience of seeing my city go through the transformation of becoming a majority minority city. I am not saying that this process did not cause some problems. It did, and it does. However, I am here to say that it is all okay. It works. Our city is somewhat different than it was 40 years ago, but it is a vibrant, exciting melting pot that is flourishing. Los Angeles has very large populations of Hispanic residents, but also Koreans, Chinese, Armenian, Iranians, Israelis, Indians, Pakistanis, and many, many other nationalities. It is complicated, it is the 21st century, and it all works.
I am not saying the every city in the nation should or can emulate Los Angeles. My point is that integration is not the “boogie man.” Our country has experienced many waves of immigrants as we built our nation into the powerhouse that it is today. In every case, waves of Italians, Irish, and Jews were met with resistance and intolerance. These misgivings were overcome, and we are a better nation for that fact.
Our nation will survive and prosper through the integration of the large and growing Hispanic wave of immigrants, and the emerging wave of Asian immigrants. At the end of the day, we are all here to seek the American Dream, and that fact should be celebrated, not condemned. It is the fact that we are a nation of immigrants that is at the very heart of American Exceptionalism. The concept of E Pluribus Unum is a working philosophy. Therefore, I urge my fellow conservatives, especially those that are fearful or wary of allowing for a path to legality for the undocumented in our country, to give the concept of immigration reform a second look. Fellow conservatives from Grover Norquist to Jeb Bush, to Marco Rubio, to even Sean Hannity are anxious for our nation to embrace a new beginning on immigration policy.
As conservatives, we demand and expect our nation to uphold the rule of law. However, by revising the laws, we can work through a process that respects the rule of law, while also respecting human dignity and a climate of justice and opportunity. We can make our immigration laws work for our nation, and build a lasting bridge to a prosperous 21st century America that has secure borders, workplace compliance, and a humane and functional immigration policy built to discourage future illegal immigration, and to encourage economic vitality. Conservatives are not of one voice on this issue. Now is the time for all conservative voices to be heard, and for rational thought and fresh ideas to emerge.
Gittelson is president and co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.