Fourteen Senate Republicans joined with their Democratic colleagues last week to pass sweeping immigration reform. Republican luddites in the House, however, threaten to torpedo meaningful reform and, in the process, their Party’s hope of regaining the White House anytime in the foreseeable future. The Senate bill would enable undocumented immigrants to work and travel freely and put them on a thirteen-year path to citizenship. Foreigners with highly valued and highly needed skills could enter far more easily than under existing law, and E-verify, the government system that enables employers to check the status of applicants, would be uniformly required.
The Republican Party, like the rest of America, desperately needs immigration reform. The United States is a diverse country, racially and ethnically. Six races are officially recognized: White, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, African American, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, and there are of course countless inter-racial combinations as well. What is certain is that the white race, which has sustained the Republican Party, is diminishing much faster than it can be replenished, and the Republicans have earned very little support among African Americans who almost exclusively vote Democratic. There is, however, really no reason that the changing demographics of the nation need cripple the Republican Party, assuming the party embraces sensible immigration reform.
The ratio of descendants of European immigrants, to total population is diminishing due to the substantially higher birth rate of the Latino population. The problem, of course, is that many Latino’s came here illegally as undocumented workers and the Republicans are demanding a high price to give them legal status, i.e., to get a green card or to develop a path to citizenship. A number of roadblocks are thrown in their way. One demand that has some merit, however, is to require that everyone seeking citizenship either speak English or be able to demonstrate that they are actively engaged in a program to learn English. Language is what, in great measure, holds a country together and enables it to speak with one voice.
White Americans are the majority in 49 of the 50 states with Hawaii as the exception. The District of Columbia, which is not a state, also has a non‑white majority. The non‑Latino/Hispanic white population, (63 percent in 2012), tends to decrease every year, while descendants of non-European immigrants are expected to become the plurality in America in about thirty years.. It is beyond the scope of this essay to slice and dice the European population among Italians, Germans, Irish, Polish, etc. Today, over forty-seven million Americans describe their ethnicity as Latino or Hispanic. Most of these Americans trace their origins to Latin America, whereas a small percentage traces their origins to Spain. Political parties, to remain relevant, must remain responsive to the changing ethnicity of their constituents.
Political parties can quickly find themselves irrelevant when they are insensitive to changing demography. Consider the once powerful Whig Party, which was founded in 1833 and dissolved in 1860 over the issue of slavery and its expansion into the territories. Most of the Southern Whigs were slave owners, while northern Whigs had a more modern orientation and were strong proponents of unity. Four presidents of the United States were members of the Whig Party. Zachary Taylor had once been a Whig and, in fact, Abraham Lincoln had been a Whig leader in Illinois. Luminaries in the Whig Party also included Daniel Webster, William Henry Harrison, and Henry Clay of Kentucky. The differences between the northern Whigs and their southern counterparts were too great to overcome, and the Northern Whigs evolved into today’s Republican Party
Ironically, the GOP, which was the party that extended citizenship to the slaves, seems ready to commit suicide over the issue of expanding the party’s electoral base to include Latino’s.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who helped write the bipartisan immigration bill under debate in the Senate, said “conservatives who are trying to block the measure will doom the party and all but guarantee a Democrat will remain in the White House after the 2016 election.” A Democrat also involved in developing the immigration reform proposal, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, went a step further and predicted “there’ll never be a road to the White House for the Republican Party” if an immigration overhaul bill fails to pass.
Even the Supreme Court has gotten into the act, signaling that Arizona’s aggressive efforts to combat illegal immigration are unconstitutional. The Court ruled that the state violated federal law when it included in its 1993 Motor-Voter law a proof‑of‑citizenship requirement. The ruling, by a very large majority 7-2, and championed by Justice Scalia, no liberal he, comes a year after the justices struck down most of a separate Arizona law targeting illegal immigrants and weeks after a sheriff in Phoenix was found to be improperly using racial profiling against Latinos.
The high court cases reinforce the principle that states may not override Congress’ judgment in areas in which the federal government holds constitutional authority, such as immigration and rules governing federal elections.
The conservative Heritage Foundation released a study that found that granting citizenship to 11.5 million unauthorized U.S. residents would cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion. Many, including us, disagree. A Wall Street Journal analysis concluded that our debt would go down as Latinos become part of the work force, earn wages and pay taxes. The skepticism is not just among progressives who typically will question the Heritage Foundation, but also Republicans such as Representative Paul Ryan, the voice of Republican fiscal policy, and Douglas Holtz‑Eakin, the conservative economist and President of the American Action Forum. The flaw in the Heritage Foundation study is that it gave no weight to so-called dynamic scoring. Dynamic scoring attempts to measure the economic impact or benefit that will follow a change in law. For example, conservatives generally use dynamic scoring to estimate the impact of tax-rate reductions as an economic stimulant that actually results in an overall increase in tax revenues. Dynamic scoring would, we believe, demonstrate the economic benefit of taxes that would be paid by previously undocumented workers.
The so‑called “gang of eight” in Washington, who pushed for comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate, acknowledges that their bill still has flaws, while a fellow GOP senator opined that their party blocking its passage will only add to their “demographic death spiral.”
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said roughly 95 percent of the bill is in “perfect shape” and that the full chamber debates are off to a good start. However, he expressed concerns about whether the legislation ensures adequate border security and said Americans have “valid issues” about the matter.
Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the gang of eight, said, “…We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community is (to) pass comprehensive immigration reform. If you don’t do that, it really doesn’t matter who the Republicans run for President.”
In our view immigration reform shouldn’t be that hard to do. The nation should be able to protect its borders and stem the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country. Then we can focus on an intelligent path to legal residency or even citizenship for those who are here. Solving this festering problem will be good for democracy, good for the two party system, and, therefore, good for America.