The fight over U.S. immigration reform has the potential to become a pivotal moment in American political history. Make the wrong decision, and the Republican Party will join the Federalists and Whigs in oblivion.
That may sound overly dramatic, but the GOP admits its positions on immigration cost it dearly in the 2012 presidential election. If it continues to act as if it doesn’t need the country’s fastest-growing demographic group — Latinos — it can kiss its future goodbye.
The end may not be swift. In fact, House Republicans right now see no danger in thumbing their noses at the immigration bill passed by the Senate last week. That’s because more than 70 per cent of House districts held by Republicans are no more than 10 per cent Hispanic. But that is changing, in some states faster than others.
That trend resonates more in the Senate, whose members run statewide. Still, only 14 Republican senators voted with the 54 Democrats. That didn’t impress House Speaker John Boehner, who said he won’t bring the measure up for a vote, nor any bill that isn’t endorsed by a majority of his Republican caucus.
GOP approval appears doubtful for any path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally. Some Republicans suggest that individual measures may pass this year, but not a comprehensive reform package.
The House Republicans’ intransigence plays to the worst instincts of Americans whose xenophobia blinds them to the benefits of immigration reform. The caucus remains stuck in the mud despite the pleas of the GOP’s corporate backers, who believe the U.S. labour pool needs more workers who don’t have to be hidden off the books.
The Senate came up with a good plan that would allow most immigrants who are here illegally to pay about $2,000 in fees as well as any back taxes, learn English and civics, and, after a 13-year process, become citizens. It also calls for spending about $30 billion to strengthen border security, which is a very high price for the impact it is likely to have.
Call it amnesty. Call it unfair to those who immigrated legally and are still waiting to become citizens. But sometimes such steps are necessary when you go too far for too long in the wrong direction. It’s time to stop the exploitation of workers by employers who know they can’t seek help. It’s time to give young people who had nothing to do with their parents’ decisions a chance to realize their own dreams.
One of the worst things about this debate is the broad brush being applied to a very diverse group of people. They all broke immigration laws, but most have done nothing else illegal. To treat them as criminals would be a disservice to them and to a country that has benefited, and hopes to benefit more, from their labor, their ideas, their spirit. If House Republicans can’t see that, they will reap the fate they deserve.