The frustration among Americans is palpable and rightfully so. Yet, every so often, elected officials in Washington are provided the opportunity to redeem themselves and hope springs eternal that the logjam will be broken, and momentous and historic reforms passed that will inject confidence and optimism in the public that people in elected office can still arise above partisanship. One such opening has revealed itself in recent days and it has to do with an issue that has not seen significant reform in nearly 30 years when President Ronald Reagan addressed immigration working with numerous members of Congress, including a Democratic Speaker from Massachusetts, Tip O’Neill.
Despite the support Democrats enjoy from Latino voters, one thing is clear, Republicans have been the ones who have taken the lead more often than not to address this deeply controversial issue. And Republicans have often been the same ones to blame when it failed to move forward as the base has been adamantly against any reform that legalizes those who came here illegally, whether or not it was their decision or they arrived in this country through no fault of their own.
This has created a deep divide between Hispanic households and the Grand Old Party. Whether fair or not, Republicans are viewed as the impediment to reform despite the fact they have often been the party most willing to discuss and attempt it. The rhetoric among some conservatives, the core of the Republican Party, has gone beyond unwelcoming to – in some cases – greatly damaging and offensive. So much so that Latinos are not hearing the party’s message on the economy and jobs or education where there is wide agreement between the GOP and Hispanics. The fact is you can’t have a meaningful conversation with someone who doesn’t respect who you are and what you bring to the table.
And that’s where we are, plain and simple. If Republicans have any hope to rehabilitating their image among Latinos, they need to stand up, address important issues and tell the nativist voices that they do not represent the party in the 21st Century. There is no other way around it. You can be conservative, defend the rule of law, and exhibit compassion and understanding for others, while addressing jobs, healthcare, taxes, energy and immigration. You can also be all those things and oppose and reject the rhetoric that accomplishes little outside dividing us further. That’s what’s required to go beyond proposing an immigration law and actually passing one.
I am heartened to read that some U.S. Senators including Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, Jon Kyl and Kay Bailey Hutchison are initiating conversations and considering offering legislation on the issue. And I know there are others who are at least interested in learning more and studying reasonable solutions including Senators Saxby Chambliss, John Cornyn, Rob Portman and Richard Burr, as well as Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Congressmen Sandy Adams, Todd Rokita and Raul Labrador, just to name a few.
While some Democrats and the media may choose to dismiss it as a small step forward, it is nevertheless a lot more than many Democrats have done to date. These leaders will need the support and courage of many others to set the record straight when those intent on dividing America, as opposed to uniting it, ratchet up the rhetoric.
For someone who has been around town for a while, I tend to have my doubts, but like so many others, I am hopeful the hard work of so many Republicans can prevail and those elected to represent us are still able to accomplish big, important things, even when it is extremely difficult.
Javier Ortiz is a Republican strategist.