Graham to GOP: Don't be 'delusional' about immigration reform

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) offered a pointed rebuttal Sunday to strategists and pundits who say embracing immigration reform will put GOP incumbents at risk in future primaries.

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Graham said if Republicans let the status quo stand and hope illegal immigrants leave the United States because of poor conditions, they will obliterate their chances of winning the White House in two years.

“If we keep playing this game that self deportation is the only answer for the Republican Party, we will have destroyed our chances in 2016 and dealt a death blow to our party because by 2050 the majority of the country is going to be African American, Hispanic and Asian,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Media pundits and conservative strategists have declared immigration reform in 2014 dead in the wake of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) shocking primary loss last week.

“It was a matter of immigration. It’s ridiculous that people are saying, “Immigration wasn’t an issue.’ It was the main issue in the race,” said William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, on ABC’s “This Week.”

But Graham, a co-author of comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate, warned his party not to be “delusional” about the need for the House to act on the issue as well.

“If we become the party of self deportation, if that again is our position in 2016, we’re going to drive a deep wedge between us and Hispanics,” he said on CBS.

In contrast to Cantor, Graham defeated a crowded field of conservative challengers Tuesday and avoided a runoff in South Carolina, a state considered more conservative than Virginia.

Proponents of immigration reform have pointed to Graham’s victory as evidence that Cantor’s defeat at the hands of economics professor Dave Brat, who campaigned extensively on illegal immigration, isn’t a message to the GOP from its conservative base to oppose comprehensive reform.

Graham on Sunday renewed his call for reform, including a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

“A pathway to citizenship, after you secure the border, control who gets a job, more legal immigrations where they have to pass a criminal background check, learn the English language, wait 10 years before you can apply for a green card," he said.

"If you solve the immigration problem in a good, American, responsible way, our party's back in the game and we can dominate the 21st century," he added.