The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

The GOP is stuck in a losing battle against immigration

Getty Images

Our politics have become painfully and pointlessly polarized. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Republican Party’s hardline stance on immigration. Even as our southern border faces the biggest migrant surge in two decades, Republicans won’t budge on immigration. To score points against the Biden presidency and the Democratic majority in Congress, too many Republicans are willing to throw bipartisanship to the wind and hold the line against any sort of Democrat-led immigration reform. 

But while playing hardball may put points on the board in the short term, the GOP’s broadly anti-immigration platform is a losing strategy in the long term. To win hearts and minds for generations to come and expand its voter base, the GOP must change its tune and join the fight for immigration reform before it’s too late.

It’s easy to see why Republicans are reluctant to side with Democrats on immigration. The GOP remains spellbound by the extremist rhetoric that defined the Trump presidency. Republican elected officials think their best chance at reelection is tied to the Trump legacy of an anti-immigration hard line that rejects citizenship for undocumented immigrants and focuses on restricting, rather than streamlining, our immigration process.

The obvious problem with that approach is that Trump is not the future of the Republican Party.

According to conventional wisdom, immigrants are a Democratic constituency. But if it’s the case that more immigrants have historically voted blue than red, that’s not because immigrants inherently align with the Democratic Party; it’s largely because Democrats have simply done more to support immigrants than their colleagues across the aisle.

There’s ample data to refute the conventional wisdom behind the Republican Party line. Fifty-eight percent of Cuban Americans, who have a clear pathway to permanent legal status under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, identify as Republicans. In fact, despite former President Trump’s divisive rhetorical screeds against immigrants, significant voices across different immigrant groups still found much to like in Republican politics during the Trump era.

Many immigrants are hard-working, conscientious contributors to the American experiment in liberty and democracy. They fill crucial gaps in our labor force, start small businesses and help build out the social fabric of families, church communities and local economies that sustain the free and prosperous America Republican policies are supposed to support. In more ways than one, immigrants are the future of America. With the right policies and an attitude of acceptance and welcome, Republicans can position themselves to be part of that future.

Whenever I debate immigration with my conservative friends, I always think about my meeting in 2019 with a largely Republican farmers group in Southside, Virginia. Their primary issues centered on streamlining immigration for H-2A workers and the costs associated with navigating the bureaucratic morass in the Department of Labor. One staunch GOP farmer relayed a story about his longest-serving employee, a naturalized citizen from Mexico. This employee had been on his payroll for 40 years and would vote Republican regardless of the candidate. His quote, and I remember it almost exactly, was, “You should bring back amnesty. Every immigrant Mexican worker I know voted Republican because of Reagan. That would sure help all of us now. He was their hero.”

Quite frankly, the GOP is delusional if it doesn’t see that immigration is a blessing, not a curse, for conservative America.

Now, it is true that conservatives and Republicans can and should have a different vision of immigration than liberals and Democrats. But the conservative vision needs to be more than negative; it needs to take stock of the positive role played by immigrants and provide immigrants with what they need to fully realize their unique contribution to American society. 

There’s no reason why Republicans can’t be leaders on immigration. Why can’t we be the principal architects of transformative, bipartisan immigration bills? To give just one example, creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is proven to boost GDP and has no lasting negative effects on employment for native-born Americans. Why then aren’t we fighting to make legalization and immigration reform an integral part of our conservative policy on economics? 

And we can, with the right amount of work, easily balance border security and national security with pro-immigrant policy. Creating a clear, responsible pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and children already living in the United States is perfectly compatible with tightening our southern border. And what better way to reduce illegal immigration than to make legal immigration easier and more efficient? 

In our current immigration system, undocumented immigrants lack a way to attain permanent legal status and are forced to avoid detection, work clandestinely and live on the margins of society. This situation exposes undocumented immigrants to all sorts of criminality, from human traffickers and drug cartels to ordinary robbery and gang violence. If we can create a system that encourages undocumented immigrants to come forward and make themselves visible to state and local governments, we can better target our deportations against career criminals and bad actors among the immigrant population. 

Real immigration reform must happen. But if the GOP drags its feet for any longer, it will simply get left behind. Generations of immigrants to come will only have Democrats to thank for the lives they can build in America; what they’ll remember of the GOP is nothing but insults and ignorance. The GOP needs to start getting smart on immigration — for the sake of the party, and the country. 

Denver Riggleman is the former U.S. congressman of Virginia’s 5th District, CEO and subject matter expert on data analytics for Riggleman Information and Intelligence Group (RIIG) and author of “Bigfoot … It’s Complicated.” He served as a United States Air Force intelligence officer and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) supporting the global war on terror.

Tags Demography Donald Trump Human migration Illegal immigration Illegal immigration to the United States Immigration Opposition to immigration Republican Party

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More Immigration News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video