To: Rick Perry (and any other Republican Candidate that wants to win in 2012)
Re: Proudly Support Immigration Reform Because It Will Put Americans Back To Work
As an immigration advocate and proud conservative who resides in Oklahoma City, a place that even Sarah Palin would agree is smack in the middle of the “Real America,” I offer the following unsolicited memo to Gov. Rick Perry (the current front runner), and any other Republican candidate who wants to get elected in 2012.
Right or wrong there is an undeniable perception out there that conservative doctrine, particularly as espoused by the Republican Party, is anti-immigration. And, unfortunately, there is good reason for that. Just listen to the Republican Candidates when they debate the issue. Either they display shocking cluelessness or articulate their immigration positions with an alarming pandering to the extreme right. If I were to summarize the two most recent Republican debates, in particular the CNN Tea Party Debate, it would be limited to blabber about fences and boots on the ground. Unfortunately, there has been almost no thoughtful discussion about solutions to the broken immigration system.
In fact, to the contrary, the Republican candidates seem to view a record on immigration as a serious political liability. They are using the immigration issue to attack front runner Governor Rick Perry in an attempt to derail his candidacy by vilifying him for his previous support of a temporary worker program and granting in-state tuition to certain undocumented students. Perry’s critics lament his position that we should secure our borders before burdening all U.S. employers with a problem laden E-Verify system. This strategy of rebuking our own for supporting reasonable immigration reform is short-sighted, economically foolish, and potentially disastrous for the future of the G.O.P. President George W. Bush captured 40% of the Hispanic vote to win the White House and in 2012 that number will undoubtedly need to be higher for Republican success.
The upcoming election will be about putting Americans back to work. And because of that, the conventional political wisdom will be that now is not the time to fix the immigration system, including creating a pathway to lawful compliance for the 11 million-plus undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
It might be easy to package that logic into a sound bite, but it’s not true. All credible studies show—from conservative, centrist, and more liberal think tanks alike—that immigration reform will boost our GDP by millions of dollars, increase America’s revenue, and, most importantly, put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work.
And this is hardly a revolutionary idea. No less a conservative than Ronald Reagan understood that America’s economic strength depends, in no small way, on an outward looking immigration policy that rewards the independent, hard working spirit that made this nation the greatest on earth. In his farewell to the nation, Reagan described his vision of America as the “shining city on the hill,” where “the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
Reducing an issue as tough and complex as immigration reform to a sound bite about border security or boots on the ground carries grave political danger for the future of the G.O.P. The past several national elections have clearly demonstrated that Latino voters have become a force to be reckoned with. And while immigration reform is hardly the only issue important to Latino voters, a candidate who disparages undocumented workers does so at his or her peril.
In short, I strongly recommend the Republican presidential hopefuls follow Gov. Perry’s example and take a hard look at the immigration issue. Articulated correctly, and with vision, it is a ticket to political success because a functional, fair, and safe immigration policy will not only put Americans back to work, but it’s the right thing to do. As for Rick Perry, my advice to him is that he wear his immigration record as a badge of honor, not something to hide from.