Doorway of immigration reform

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of George Wallace’s stand in the schoolhouse doorway, an attempt to impede a writ for integration that he considered unlawful. 

That milestone was not celebrated in Alabama, but rather was “observed” with public gatherings that pondered past mistakes, lost opportunities and progress made. 

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These reflections might have been insightful to Senate Republicans standing in the path of a deal on immigration reform. 

They might have heard Wallace’s family say that later in his troubled life, “the Guvnah” changed his mind about black people and integration, the law and politics. 

And today’s senators may have heard that Wallace bore a lot of guilt to his grave. 

It is worth pondering today: In 50 years, how will today’s Senate deliberations on immigration be viewed by Americans?

The end game here is obvious to all but the blind. 

Just as we once knew there would be legal integration all across this nation  despite legalistic arguments of states’ rights, we all know now there will eventually be some sort of work-permitting or provisional citizenship granted to undocumented workers who have been living here, in spite of all the rule-of-law and back-of-the-line talk. 

Whenever pollsters like myself ask whether we can or should send tens of millions of “illegals” packing, back to Latin American or other home countries, the answer is “no.” 

Even staunch defenders of tighter borders and wild-eyed opponents of “amnesty” confess to pollsters that this is neither possible nor practical. 

In 50 years, this will be all over. The deal will be done. The only thing we’ll be sorting out is who played the role of George Wallace. And the families of those poor scapegoats will be searching for some excuse for their ancestors’ inexplicable behaviors.

There are only two honorable — or perhaps stated more directly in senatorial terms, “politically defensible” — justifications for prolonging the debate. 

Some Republicans might simply be trying to leverage better terms for the resolution, such as real border security, work-permitting that falls short of full citizenship or even higher penalties and tougher requirements for the ultimate awarding of citizenship. 

If that’s the case, these Republicans should lay their cards on the table. 

My own polling, as well as reading of other polls, tells me many of these constraints on an immigration plan will be politically viable. 

The only other short-term advantage Senate Republicans might reap from being recalcitrant is receiving the support of some white working-class voters that swing between the two parties. 

In the recent book The White Working Class Today: Who They Are, How They Think, and How Progressives Can Gain Their Support, author Andrew Levison sees immigration as trouble for Democrats. 

Levison bases his conclusion on Pew Research Center polling data that “confirm the undeniable strength and intensity of white working class antagonism to recent immigrants.”

Aside from that consideration, the short-term electoral consequences of immigration should not bother senators pondering immigration reform. 

Yet I personally believe that many in the Senate are literally fearful of primary challenges based on immigration. 

Such fears are wholly without merit. 

I look at a lot of primary polling data, and it’s clear that this issue has cooled off. 

Only 15 to 20 percent at most would consider immigration a top issue. The percentage would be far lower than for deficits, taxes, spending, gun rights and perhaps even abortion or gay marriage. 

Senators might be taking their cues from House members, where a handful of congressional districts could turn on immigration. But no state primary electorate will.

Long term, change is going to come. 

Get on board now and play a role in shaping the final outcome to achieve the best possible deal. Otherwise, senators, in 50 years your children and grandchildren will have some explaining to do.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.

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