GOP policies shrink base

In the aftermath of the GOP’s big 2008 losses, Karl Rove outlined a roadmap back to the majority. Among Rove’s key principles was that “[t]he GOP won’t be a majority party if it cedes the young or Hispanics to Democrats. Republicans must find a way to support secure borders, a guest-worker program and comprehensive immigration reform that strengthens citizenship, grows our economy and keeps America a welcoming nation. An anti-Hispanic attitude is suicidal.”

His Republican Party, of course, took the opposite approach — stepping up its xenophobic attacks on immigrants, championing Arizona’s regressive S.B. 1070 and fighting to expand such laws in other states. Yet the nation’s dramatic demographic shift toward a younger, browner populace continues unabated, and Republicans find themselves with a shrinking base — and one that demands the benefits afforded by cheap immigrant labor.

Witness archconservative Texas Rep. Debbie Riddle, who introduced a bill criminalizing the hiring of undocumented workers, with violators facing up to two years in jail and $10,000 in fines. Yet curiously, the bill exempts hires “for the purpose of obtaining labor or other work to be performed exclusively or primarily at a single-family residence.” In other words, maids, nannies or gardeners. Asked to justify the exemption, a spokesman told CNN it was needed to avoid “stifling the economic engine” in Texas — honestly admitting how important “the help” was to Texas’s economy.

Furthermore, as another state representative pointed out, “with things as they are today, her bill will see a large segment of the Texas population in prison” if it passed without any exemption. To hear Republicans speak, undocumented immigrants are some of the worst criminals, but it’s OK if they’re caring for your babies! Their approach is downright schizophrenic. 

Surprisingly, however, not all Republicans want to hamper future electoral viability by tilting at windmills. 

Last week, Utah passed a new law allowing undocumented workers to apply for temporary legal residency so long as they pass a health and background check and haven’t been convicted of any criminal law serious enough to be punishable by at least a year in jail. “[Anti-immigrant conservatives] had their 15 minutes in the media and now the adults are going to start talking about how to handle matters,” said Paul Mero of the conservative Sutherland Institute. “We’ve been able to break through that political barrier put up by the wing-nuts who see every brown person as a criminal.”

The law is no liberal solution to the immigration problem — immigrants must be sponsored by an employer and cannot leave the state of Utah. It is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s greatest dream — a source of cheap labor with few legal protections or rights. Employers will hold absolute power over the ability of workers to stay in the country, and abuses are inevitable. 

But the underlying theory of the law, from the nation’s most conservative state, is nonetheless notable. It’s a solution that, while wrong on the policy merits, is still not a hateful one. It doesn’t seek to demonize an entire class of people. It recognizes the key role that immigrants play in the economy, and preserves the sanctity of families by refusing to break them up. 

Democrats are best served when Republicans pursue Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws. But the nation would be best served if we had a policy debate over immigration that didn’t seek to destroy the lives of millions of hardworking people whose greatest transgression was to seek the American Dream.

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos.