Immigration reform is not about semantics

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As alluring as it might be for Republicans to believe that they are a catch-phrase or two away from cutting into the Democrats’ sizeable advantage among Hispanics, it is simply not the case. For starters, the Republicans’ difficulty with Hispanic voters predates recent immigration debates. Mitt Romney’s poor showing among Hispanics was not significantly out of line with what other GOP presidential nominees have polled over many decades.
 
The Republicans’ “Hispanic problem” is not an immigration-related one; it is an economic  one. Every poll of Hispanic voters has found that jobs and the economy top the list of concerns expressed by these voters and that by overwhelming majorities they favor the Democrats’ solutions. Immigration policy ranks far down the list of concerns for most Hispanic voters.
 
The HLN offers up an appealing list of euphemisms that Republicans might use as they engage in the looming policy debate about immigration reform. Euphemisms may make it easier for Republicans to compromise core values. But engaging in euphemism will not impress Hispanic voters who are voting against Republicans in large numbers for reasons that have nothing to do with amnesty for illegal aliens. And it certainly will do nothing to benefit American workers and taxpayers who will bear the brunt of the truly destructive policy euphemistically labeled “comprehensive immigration reform.”
 
Republicans should not shy away from using the term amnesty for what is being proposed. It is what it is, even if illegal aliens have to jump through a few hoops, endure a slap on the wrists, and wait awhile to become citizens. The HLN’s preferred term, “earned legal status,” ignores the fundamental truth that the most important criterion for earning legal status is having broken the law. Not only that, while illegal immigrants are going through the process, they will get to remain here, be eligible to compete for most every job available, and enjoy many public benefits including ObamaCare.
 
Another helpful rationalization suggested by the HLN is removing the word illegal (either as a noun or adjective) from the immigration debate lexicon. Such people should be referred to as “undocumented immigrants,” Republicans are urged. The problem, of course, is that the term is not only inaccurate, but utterly divorced from reality. Being an immigrant to the United States is not a status people can bestow upon themselves, any more than being a congressman, senator, doctor, or a lawyer is.
 
The people who would benefit from amnesty are citizens of other nations who either entered or remained in this country in violation of our laws. Like all human beings, they need to be treated with respect and dignity, but that should not preclude us from calling what they are – illegal aliens – or demanding that they comply with our laws.
 
Warm and fuzzy language should not obscure the most important consideration of how we address immigration reform. Illegal immigration is harmful to the well-being of American workers and taxpayers, and is a potential threat to our security. Amnesty would only validate the harm that has already been inflicted and compound it over time. In particular, Hispanic Americans who often compete directly with illegal aliens for jobs, wages, and educational opportunities as they endeavor to get ahead, stand to lose the most.
 
Instead of adopting empty feel-good rhetoric, Republicans need to offer a compelling message for why enforcing our immigration laws would be enormously beneficial to low-income Americans, including Hispanics. There is a clear choice that needs to be made in dealing immigration. Either we can prioritize people who broke our immigration laws and the narrow political and economic interests that benefit from them, or we can do what is right for Hispanic citizens and legal immigrants, and their children.
 
A realistic chance at upward mobility, not mass amnesty, is precisely what Hispanic voters say they want. A rational immigration policy, not patronizing language, is the Republicans’ best hope for winning the votes of Hispanic Americans.


Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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