Obama, GOP need to finally tackle immigration reform
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, November 11, 2012
11/11/12 at 9:01 AM
When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 he had promised Hispanics, who overwhelmingly voted for him, that he would tackle immigration reform. That didn't happen.
So, here we are four years later and the same promise has been made. It's time for the president to make good. But he's going to need some help.
Fair and comprehensive immigration reform is important for at least two reasons: 1) To make a vibrant and vital part of our population feel that they are welcome and wanted in the country they have adopted. 2) Whoever tackles the immigration issue with fairness will gain the political high ground.
There has been very little progress on immigration reform since then-President George W. Bush tried in 2007. That bipartisan effort was scuttled by conservative opposition (largely Republican) in Congress.
Obama has made some progress. In June, he issued an executive order granting a two-year reprieve from deportation to illegal immigrants under the age of 31 who arrived in the United States before they turned 16. The order stipulated that they have no criminal record and have earned a high school diploma, remained in school or served in the U.S. military.
The president's decision affected more than 1 million young people and was a factor in a large Hispanic turnout in last week's presidential election. Hispanics now make up as much as 10 percent of the voting population and they voted for Obama by a 70 percent margin.
The Republican Party finds itself on the wrong side of history. The Republicans, once the leading voices in the movement to end slavery, lost the support of African-American voters to the Democrats following the signing of the Civil Rights Act by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson and have never regained it.
That is where the Republicans find themselves now. The party has been hijacked by a small but powerful minority that has drawn a line in the sand and will not accept anything less than total removal of illegal immigrants. Some of the state laws that have passed, Oklahoma included, often fail to easily distinguish between those who would be considered in the country illegally and those who are not only here legally but are citizens.
The country is quickly moving toward a new majority. One with which many Americans have no problem. Younger people are much less likely to resist inclusiveness and change than are older people. And, that is what the Republican Party is becoming or has already become - old white men.
The Republicans had a chance during its presidential primary to at least garner some of the Hispanic vote by offering some hope for immigration reform.
Instead, the candidates fell over one another trying to be the "toughest" on immigration. The eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, even endorsed the so-called "self-deportation" stance. That calls for making life so miserable for Hispanics that they would leave on their own. That's popular among the radical anti-immigration crowd, but it fails to take into account that such Draconian measures also do harm to those Hispanics here legally. Truth be known, that crowd would be happy to see all Hispanics leave the country.
The fact is, a Republican candidate, especially in the South and Southwest, would find it almost impossible to get out of a Republican primary by supporting any policy other than total deportation.
Here's some extra fodder for the GOP political grist mill. Last Tuesday, 28 Latinos won seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. That was an addition of four. Three defeated Republican incumbents. In the Senate, Hispanics gained a seat from Texas, although the GOP can take some solace because Ted Cruz is a Republican.
According to the Pew Research Center, from 2005-2050, new immigrants and their descendants will account for 82 percent of the U.S. population increase.
Imagine what those increases will mean for states such as Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma. Those strongly Republican states could begin to see a shift in the political landscape before this decade is out.
The Republicans' best hope is to sincerely reach out to the Hispanic community. Rather than being seen as the party that wants to round up Hispanics and truck them back across the border, it needs to do its best to mend its soiled reputation among Hispanics.
First, however, it needs to either gag or remove the hateful speech and laws that emanate from that small but vocal group. And it must find ways to get inclusive candidates through the primaries that the vocal minority dominates.
The healing could start with the next Congress. And it ought to be close to the top of Obama's to-do list.
There is an immigration problem. (Yes, I know the meaning of the word illegal.) It needs to be fixed. But any fix ought to be fair and compassionate.
Both parties could win in this. If the Republicans can moderate and help the president pass immigration reform, then they have the chance of gaining Hispanic votes based on issues other than immigration.
If not, they will continue to see the Democrats increase their hold on the growing Hispanic population and eventually see a lot of those red states turn blue.
The president, on the other hand, has a promise to keep. If the House sabotages immigration reform, Obama needs to let the American people know why.
This is a promise that needs to be fulfilled.
Original Print Headline: Promises, promises
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332
Mitt Romney addresses the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. The GOP's biggest challenge in the next election: improving relations with America's Hispanics. DAVID MCNEW / Associated Press file