Republican leaders understand political reality well enough to grasp that they can’t survive as the anti-immigrant party. They insist they want to pass some sort of immigration reform, just nothing “comprehensive” with too many “pages.”
And now they are starting to move past their “secure the border first” and suggest ways for the currently undocumented to stay.
With a catch.
While the heart of the Senate bill provides all 11 million undocumented people in America with a clear, albeit arduous, pathway to citizenship, House Republicans are resisting and dancing around the subject.
Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Eric Cantor have expressed support for extending citizenship to the children of the undocumented, despite nearly every House Republican voting last month to defund President Obama’s executive order providing work permits to those same people.
And the House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte recently offered a plan which would, according to Politico, “legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants and allow them to apply for citizenship using ways that already exist — including marriage to a U.S. citizen or sponsorship by another relative or an employer.” (Some House Republicans estimate that half of their caucus is similarly supportive of “legalization.”)
Both of the above proposals sound nice but would leave the vast majority of undocumented without a path to citizenship. Most, of course, are not children. Most, of course, will not marry U.S. citizens. And many are migrant workers that can’t get employer sponsorship.
Furthermore, the Goodlatte position is fundamentally hypocritical. While he and other Republicans claim to oppose the Senate bill for creating a new “special” path to citizenship, the Goodlatte approach to provide blanket legalization would be illegal under current law. In other words, Goodlatte would need to change the law and create his own “special” path to legalization.
So if there is substantial support for letting the undocumented legally stay, what is stopping them from just accepting a path to citizenship? What’s the difference?
The right to vote.
Conservatives are terrified that granting citizenship to 11 million immigrants means giving Democrats more votes.
Rush Limbaugh revealed the fear in his April interview of Sen. Marco Rubio: “so many people are scared to death, Senator, that the Republican Party is committing suicide, that we’re going to end up legalizing nine million automatic Democrat voters.”
This is an untenable position to hold. It is calling for a legalized two-tiered society, to codify taxation without representation, for no other reason but to give one party a perverse political advantage.
These Republicans are effectively saying to the undocumented, “you can pick our fruit, slaughter our meat, bus our dinner tables, and stroll our babies. But you can’t vote.”
It is also a politically myopic stance for Republicans to take. There are plenty of Latinos who already have the vote, they are already growing in number. If Republicans can’t learn how to appeal to Latinos, it won’t matter whether or not 11 million more get the vote more than decade from now. They’ll be a dead party anyway.
The upside is that more and more House Republicans are shifting away from virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric. By acknowledging the need for legalization in some form, they are laying the groundwork to accept a final bipartisan deal.
But they can’t be allowed to have any excuses. It needs to be make clear that their current embrace of legalization is not at all compassionate, practical or moral. It is a call to codify a permanent underclass without basic democratic rights, and it cannot stand.