Would Legalizing Illegal Immigrants Help the GOP?

Some conservatives think a kinder, gentler approach to Latinos will win them over.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

Republicans, who have been under fire in the Latino community for junking immigration reform in the Bush administration and promoting some policies that appear anti-immigrant, think they can win back Hispanics, in part because President Obama has largely ignored the issue. One way they see to do it is to legalize illegals.

"Conservative leaders see opportunity for the party," says a Republican immigration reform advocate. "Due to Obama's lack of action on his promise of immigration reform, we believe Latino voters are open to being wooed by Republicans," the conservative activist said.

The wooing began today at an immigration reform forum sponsored by the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles on Capitol Hill. Proponents say they want the plan to suggest that border security isn't enough to form an immigration bill. They also want to figure out how to deal with current illegals, perhaps through legalization or a guest worker program. But, says one involved, they don't support "amnesty, per se."

Since former President Bush was thwarted on his immigration plan, the GOP has dropped the issue. "Most Republicans are for immigration reform, but they are afraid of saying anything publicly because of the pressure they're getting from the anti-immigration lobby," says Alfonso Aguilar, senior fellow with the Latino Partnership.

"This is pretty weird, considering that the three main anti-immigration groups—FAIR, NumbersUSA, and CIS—are not conservative at all," he added. (FAIR is the Federation for American Immgration Reform; CIS is the Center for Immigration Studies.) "They advance ideas like zero population growth and global warming, which clearly go against basic conservative beliefs. Obama's total lack of leadership on this issue should serve as a call to action for conservatives. We should reclaim the immigration issue."

The forum came in advance of this weekend's planned immigration reform march, which is expected to bring 100,000 out to support reform.

The president only recently signaled that the issue will be on his post-healthcare agenda. Democrats think they have a better chance wooing Latino voters because they feel Republicans talk too much about the southern border wall and kicking illegals out of the country.

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