Bipartisanship, if not a functional democracy, increasingly seems like a relic of administrations past when one watches the news. On one hand, we have a president who openly states his desire to work around Congress, ruling by executive order, or with his “pen” and his “phone,” and, on the other, we have a speaker of the House that has vowed to block votes that could pass but don’t have the support of a majority of Republicans. The situation is dire.
For the party of Abraham Lincoln and Chuck Norris, to which I myself ascribe, every vote that Congress is faced with seems to turn into a de facto referendum on Obama’s performance as president. If he’s for it, we’re against it. This ought not be the case. An opposition party that only opposes becomes a party of naysayers, which cuts strongly against the Republican tradition of optimism, of human ingenuity and of faith in the future.
Immigration reform is the best example of a Republican issue that has been appropriated by the White House. The last time comprehensive immigration reform was passed was in 1986 under Ronald Reagan, a president who went to great lengths to make inroads into Hispanic communities. “Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet,” Reagan famously quipped. The Gipper’s stance on immigration form allowed him to garner 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1984, a record figure for the time. Indeed, Mitt ‘self-deportation’ Romney only managed a slim 27 percent of Hispanic votes 28 years later.
Columns on the emerging (or ‘emerged’?) Hispanic voting bloc are plentiful so I will thus refrain from rehashing the same arguments. Suffice it to say that roughly 55,000 Latino citizens reach voting age each month, or more than half a million each year, most of which will continue to vote Democrat unless the Republican Party makes a concerted effort, like Reagan did, to garner their votes.
Even stronger than this demographic and pragmatic argument for why Republicans should support comprehensive immigration reform though, is an ideological one. Frankly, Republican arguments against immigration reform reek of protectionism, which has never been the way of the GOP. Protectionism is when a country closes itself off out of fear, when one would rather maintain a mediocre status quo than take an entrepreneurial step outwards in pursuit of prosperity, of the ‘American dream’. Protectionism has historically been the refuge of Democrats.
Why should we allow for immigrants to work in our country when so many Americans are out of work? Such a line appears empathetic and commonsensical yet in reality masks a protectionist ideology. It assumes the economy to be forever stagnant instead of dynamic, to hold a fixed number of jobs rather than being able to develop and grow. As renowned conservative columnist George Will has pointed out, immigrants are in essence entrepreneurs, risk-takers “plunging into uncertainty” in the hope of a better future. Immigrants have greater faith in the American dream than most U.S. citizens likely do. These are the kind of individuals that I think America, and the Republican Party, needs.
None of this, however, means that we can’t have secure borders or rigid workplace enforcement, the twin pillars of comprehensive immigration reform. Though it is understandable that Republican congressmen are having trouble trusting Obama after the president effectively rewrote his signature healthcare law after it was passed, we must stop pretending that the current administration has no will to enforce our immigration laws. Over the last 5 years, the White House has deported a record number of illegal immigrants, over 9 times as much as 20 years ago. According to The Economist, these deportations constitute “one of the largest peacetime outflows of people in America’s history.”
According to the current immigration bill, drafted by the bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ and including probable Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), 20,000 more border agents will be hired and 700 miles of fence along the Mexican border will be completed. The most crucial part of the bill is the workplace enforcement component, notably through the use of E-Verify, which has never been fully implemented since 1986.
It’s time for Republicans to reclaim immigration reform and regain our position as a party that is geared towards the future. Mr. Boehner, it’s your move.
Held is a financial consultant currently living in Geneva, Switzerland.