Immigration Reform: Squaring the Republican Circle

Immigration Reform: Squaring the Republican Circle

One of the most hotly-contested issues in Republican politics is the subject of immigration “reform,” and what squaring the circle of current policy could mean to the political fortunes of both parties. Republicans may gain or lose more in this debate, in that Democrats have cemented their reputation as the party of choice for minorities. Democrats hold that slot with some historical precedent, actual policy notwithstanding.

President Obama’s recent comments regarding immigration seem to have been rather deliberately toothless; simply stressing the urgency that “something be done,” without offering any specifics. Following the post-State of the Union dust up regarding executive privilege surrounding Obama’s likelihood of using his “pen and phone” to subvert congressional approval, anti-immigration reform sentiment briefly took the form of constitutional defense against overweening executive action. As though Obama could, or would – in one fell pen stroke – let loose the huddled masses to overrun the nation. Except for this limited cavil, opposition rather quickly and quite sensibly returned to its more usual, well-worn channels.

With Chris Christie’s likely demise as a serious opponent against Hillary Clinton, Republicans and their financial backers are anxious to inject some new blood into their party’s languishing base. The Republican party seems almost desperate to find any impetus of energy and passion. Some insiders feel immigration is exactly the push they need. The Tea Party has seemingly waned in its fervor, if not its political efficacy. Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric used to energize it was decidedly xenophobic, if infrequently, guardedly, racist. How those Tea Partiers will react to forward progress on the subject of immigration reform, is unknown. Unquestionably, there will be at least a modicum of backlash against the Democrats allowing more illegal immigrants access to American jobs and welfare.

Republicans seem anxious to use the well-worn cudgel of anti-Obamacare sentiment to batter their way into a 2016 victory. As America increasingly becomes a majority non-white nation however, will jingoistic sentiments be enough? Is it possible for Republicans to “square the circle” of immigration policy reform? They need to appeal to non-whites, while simultaneously maintaining the passion of their Tea Party base stalwarts. Unfortunately for Republicans, such an edge may simply be too narrow to tread without the danger of reprisals; the expected loss of votes.

The negative perception of immigration reform to the Republican base is multifaceted, but primarily opposition takes the form of suggestions that it would lead to either a potential terrorist penetration, a loss of jobs for “real” Americans or an unfair political advantage for Democrats.

As august a personage as the chairman of the house Judiciary Committee, Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Virginia (R), opined against progress in the realm of immigration, with this statement: “President Obama should be protecting U.S. citizens rather than taking a chance on those who are aiding and abetting terrorist activity.” As part of the GOP House leadership team on immigration reform, it is easy to assume Rep. Goodlatte’s words to be in line with party dicta; likely representative of current ideology on the subject. Although, it remains uncertain just how fruitful such “9-11”esque appeals will be.

Republicans essentially face the unique challenge of appealing to immigrants just enough to garner sufficient votes in 2016, while not appreciably hurting the often anti-immigration reform elements, of their base. Conservative as they are, the safest position for Republicans may be not attempting to square the circle of immigration reform at all. Which, incidentally, is what policy-watchers seem to agree is the safest bet.

It remains to be seen just how long Republicans can maintain this position of inaction, but they seem determined to test the limits of its inertia.

Editorial By Hamilton Tolson


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