Both political parties are having fits trying to solve the problem of illegal immigration in a way that proves to be a vote winner. The Democrats, at least as far as the conventional wisdom goes, have a leg up on the GOP because they are much "kinder and gentler" to the American Latino community than the Republicans.
The problem really goes deeper than that. It's the inability of anyone to come up with a reasonable, workable, comprehensive program that takes into account both America's innate, natural compassion towards those less fortunate and the need to respect and enforce the rule of law. What the country needs is solutions, not just additional rhetoric.
So far, President Barack Obama has been allowed pretty much to skate on the issue of immigration reform. People are willing to overlook his promise to resolve the question in his first term as long as he continues talking about doing "something" and implying Republican opposition to reform is grounded in poorly disguised racist sentiments.
It is easy to forget, as many people have, that he not only failed to take up the issue during his first four years in office he failed to even propose doing anything about it — even when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and could have passed easily legislation that granted amnesty and tax-subsidies to illegal immigrants already in the United States.
The Republicans, conversely, have organized themselves into a circular firing squad. And they are losing votes because of it, and more votes, potentially, than the hard line stance the party has taken is winning for them. The GOP is so obsessed with the problem of the illegals already here that, with a few notable exceptions like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, they cannot see the forest for the trees. Even the Republican National Committee's widely discussed blueprint for the future, the report of its Growth and Opportunity Project, treats the problem as a failure in messaging rather than a lack of success in finding a proposal that the American people will embrace.
Now that Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has announced his intention to ram a comprehensive immigration reform package through his committee and onto the floor, things have once again come to a head.
What the Republicans do in response may be make or break for them. They should proceed with caution, fully cognizant that the Leahy gambit is more about winning votes in 2014 than it is about winning passage for any single piece of legislation.
In formulating their response, members of the GOP would be wise to consult the latest installment of Resurgent Republic's ballot research series, which looks at the views of GOP primary voters as represented by focus groups conducted in Des Moines, Iowa and Greenville,S.C.
"Majorities of Latino voters in swing states believe the Republican Party does not respect their values and concerns," the group — which was co-founded by former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie — said in a release. "This opinion results from rhetoric from a small, but vocal, number of Republicans that has characterized past immigration debates."
Seeking to qualitatively measure the sentiments of GOP primary voters on what is admittedly a volatile issue, the results from the focus groups indicated clearly that party leaders would be mistaken if they chose to believe immigration reform was a "one-step panacea guaranteeing Republican inroads among Hispanic voters."
The key highlights from Resurgent Republic's latest research include:
- These Republican base voters strongly support legal immigration. Regardless of their individual positions on immigration reform, Republicans should open any discussion on this issue highlighting the benefits legal immigration brings to America.
- Immigration reform is not on the radar of the Republican base. They are following this issue from a distance, so Republicans seeking to pass broad based immigration policies need to make the case as to why this is necessary.
- Participants agree that mass deportation of undocumented immigrants would create more problems than it solves and they cite logistical, economic, moral and social concerns with doing so.
- Securing the border is foundational before implementing an earned citizenship process.
- In order to be acceptable for Republican primary voters, any potential pathway to citizenship should be defined as a lengthy, rigid and workable process that results in an earned status. It does not absolve wrongdoing.
- Solutions addressing undocumented immigrants should be presented in the context of alternatives. There are no easy fixes and Republican voters oppose giving President Obama carte blanche authority on this issue.
It is not enough for the Republicans to point out the failings of the Obama administration, as the focus groups suggested, to solve the problems of America's Hispanic community. Immigration reform is one essential part of the discussion but so is the lack of jobs, the stagnant economy, oppressive and counter-productive government regulation and the failure of the public schools to meet the needs of the nation's children in ever increasing numbers. While crafting a proposal for immigration reform that is real and meaningful, as Rubio and others are trying to do, they must also make a renewed effort to offer policies that, in a tangible way, can be shown to promote growth and opportunity. At the bottom line, that is what Hispanics — and everyone else for that matter — really want.
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