Immigration is a win or die issue for Republicans

Barack Obama captured over 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in the last election, and Hispanics are becoming one of the demographics that could make or break modern Conservatism

But some are more legal than others
Matt Vespa
On 7 April 2013 07:56

As the debate over immigration continues, Republicans have the most to lose if things go wrong. Barack Obama captured over 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in the last election, and Hispanics are becoming one of the demographics that could make or break modern Conservatism.

Yet, our immigration crisis in the States is entirely the fault of federal inaction. It was this kind of legislative torpor that pushed Arizona's legislature to pass the controversial SB-1070 immigration bill, which liberals saw as racial profiling. Nevertheless, the 2012 Republican primaries painted – frivolously – the GOP as anti-immigrant and racist.

The policy of self-deportation, while palatable to conservatives, is a messaging strategy that destroyed Romney’s attempts at Hispanic outreach. It’s these sort of blunders that sunk the California GOP back in 1994.

California’s Proposition 187 in 1994 was a debacle that the national party should consider concerning its consequences. Nancy H. Martis of the California Journal, wrote – at the time – that Prop. 187 banned:

“...illegal immigrants from public social services, non emergency health care and public education. Various state and local agencies would be required to report anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant to the state attorney general and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) [Now Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)]. The attorney general would be required to maintain records and transmit reports to INS. Manufacturing, distributing or selling false citizenship or residence documents illegal under existing state law would become a felony.”

The proposition was strongly supported by then-California Governor Pete Wilson, a Republican, during his 1994 re-election campaign. While Prop 187 passed, it was eventually struck down as unconstitutional, and the California Republican Party never fully recovered from the fallout.

Some, like columnist Raoul Contreras, have argued that the enthusiastic support for the measure alienated the Mexican demographic in the state, which happened to be the fastest growing, and alienated middle class Mexican Americans everywhere. With Arnold Schwarzenegger the notable exception, given that 1994 was practically the last time a Republican won significant statewide office those assumptions seem to be correct.

There are eleven million illegal immigrants in the United States. It’s easy to say, “deport them all,” but the American people wouldn't tolerate the police actions required to find them. Furthermore, let's say we did find all of them. Logistically, the number of buses it would take to send these people home would stretch from San Diego to Alaska.  

Conservative commentator George Will aptly made these points; and he's right. Deportation isn't going to happen.

Republicans need to understand that these people are here, and that legal status is probably inevitable. I have no problem with the provision in the president's – and the Gang of Eight – plan that stipulates current illegals could earn citizenship in thirteen years. Ten 0f those years would be spent waiting in line for their legal status. It's putting them at the back of the line.

So, where does that leave conservatives? First, they should be mindful of the California GOP's skeletons on this issue. One wrong move, and the Republican Party – nationally – could be finished in terms of winning elections. Second, leave the minority outreach strategies and messaging to the states. Unlike Republicans in Washington, the GOP at the state-level is immensely diverse, powerful, and competent. As John Avlon at CNN wrote last January:

“[the] lack of statewide-elected diverse Democrats is striking and could provide an opening for Republicans in the next generation (if conservatives don't keep alienating that community with anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation). The old stereotypes don't hold when looking at the facts -- Republicans have been quietly making inroads into communities of color, even if that hasn't yet registered in overall voting patterns.”

Furthermore, he noted how Republicans have two Hispanic governors, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Susana Martinez of New Mexico, while Democrats have none. Also:

“America's Indian-American population is fast-growing and successful. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is one of the nation's most innovative governors, and the former Rhodes scholar is newly committed to making the GOP no longer "the party of stupid."

“If he chooses to run for president in 2016, Jindal could make a major dent in the race and possibly emerge toward the front of the pack. There is also South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who climbed from the General Assembly to the Governor's Mansion, breaking a number of historical barriers along the way. In the past two months, she has appointed the first African-American Republican from the South to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction (Tim Scott), and her husband was deployed to Afghanistan. How many Indian-American governors do Democrats have in office? None”.

Yet, Conservatives should raise questions on cost.  When given legal status, these illegals will be eligible to receive health care benefits through Obamacare. As Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner noted in January:

“...for every additional 1 million people on Medicaid, the federal government will be spending about $58 billion over the next decade and for every 1 million people on the exchange, taxpayers would be spending about $41 billion. Projecting this out for 8 million new beneficiaries would give a range of $328 billion to $464 billion.”

So, what plan does Sen. Rubio (R-Florida) – and other Republicans – have to pay for the additional $400+ billion dollars, which is on top of the one trillion we’ve already spent on this dubious foray into government-run health care? Alas, the fight over Obamacare is on the horizon.  

Yet, was this part of the Republican long-term strategy of compromising on immigration to put Obamacare in the crosshairs? Regardless, this whole immigration mess is one huge headache, but one that needs to be remedied.

Matt Vespa is a conservative blogger based in Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @mvespa1

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