June 30, 2013

Headed for Oblivion: The GOP Without Immigration Reform

by Hal Gershowitz

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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.

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5 responses to “Headed for Oblivion: The GOP Without Immigration Reform”

  1. irwin yablans says:

    It seems ludicrous that any american can not understand the need for immigration reform.Your essay does a very good job of making the case for sorely needed changes.It will be interesting to see if the republicans can overcome the resistance of the reactionary wing of the party.
    You are correct when you warn of the the demise of the GOP if these backward ideologues continue to control the agenda.
    Good summation of the dilemna.

  2. mark j levick says:

    Even the opponents of the Senante Bill acknowledge that immigration reform is needed. Their problem is with the manner in which the Senate seeks to achieve that reform. It is not unfair to say that Republican Senators who support it are doing so in part to pander to Hispanics. The Hispanic vote should not be a driving force. The fact is our Government has chosen not to enforce our immigration laws and we have given amnesty and benefits to millions of people living in the Country illegally. If history is any indicator whatever legislation is passed will almost certainly be ignored for reasons of political expediency. Janet Napalitano who will be in charge of securing our borders has already declared them secure. Millions of those in the Country illegally have simply overstayed their visas and disappeared. Of course the Senante is throwing money at the problem and yet another TSA type Government jobs program will result. It defies common sense to have any confidence in Government bureucracies. Yet that is what the Senate proposes as a solution to our immigration problems. This is a Country whose secrets have been entrusted to a private first class and a contract worker who never graduated college; that charges those with no banking experience to regulate banks; encourages the IRS employees to pursue those taxpayers with whom they have idelogical differences and finds money for phot-op Presidential trips to Africa while it cancels air shows and White House tours and left to its own devises would have thrown the airtransportation system into chaos because the rate of federal spending increases have been cut. Quite simply those who trust Government typicallyhave a political or economic interest to do so as experience dealing with Government agencies would cause them to do otherwise. The politics of immigration reform will assure the passage of an unworkable, costly plan that won’t be implimented and its defeat will make the Republican Party a national pariah. Either outcome will thrill our President when he returns from Africa and contnues to lead from the rear.

  3. Larry says:

    Every one wants to believe either that immigration reform will be an economic boom or a disaster. Pretending the decision is easy is a way of not having to understand nuance. The truth is that the most careful studies say it will be a push economically . Some will be helped (the Federal government by quite a bit), while some will suffer pain (the states with large immigrant populations and/or generous welfare programs — California gets a double whammy.)

    We’ve past the point, unhappily, when we can have a rational skills-based policy; we’re stuck with a choice of policies heavily weighted toward family-based immigration.

    Still, absent immigration we are Japan or Italy – another country in which the birth rate would push us inexorably toward slow and ultimately negative growth.

    The insane wing of the R’s is pushing toward economic extinction as well as political suicide. The former is much more serious. These people are not dumb,atleastmostofthem buttheyhavebui.tacoalition based on hatred, and fear. One can only hope that is not a sustainable combination.

    Change or die.

  4. Roger Pattison says:

    I don’t understand why the Republican Party is now the party blocking much advancement in immigration reform, focusing mostly on throwing money at an increasingly militarized border.

    Reagan was pro-immigration and was able to get legislation passed. George W. Bush was pro-immigration reform as well.

    Hal and Stephen, you are both right to point out that we need to focus on reforming legal avenues for immigrants. One thing though, I don’t think we need to focus all our attention on a “path to citizenship.” Broadly expanding our guest worker program would serve the purpose of halting the tide of undocumented workers and giving our companies the labor they desperately need.

    Good piece.

  5. John Fairfield says:

    Surely the House leadership can pass a bill that will go to conference and emerge as good legislation. If not, perhaps it is time for the Republican Party to expire and permit a Moderate Party of centrist Republicans and Democrats to emerge and save our country.

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