Arizona’s new strict anti-immigration law SB 1070 is the most recent and loudest salvo in the immigration debate. President Obama and the Democratic leadership announced that their next legislative priority will be tackling that open sore of American public policy. But instead of fighting them tooth and nail, Republicans should steal the Democrats' thunder and propose their own version of immigration reform that goes beyond enforcement. Unlike passing legislation like SB 1070 in Arizona, it’s the “conservative” thing to do and it makes political sense.
Former President Bush garnered roughly 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004. That’s because they typically vote like other working-class Americans. But Republican pronouncements about deporting every illegal immigrant could destroy that political balance and shift them into a permanent Democratic voting bloc.
41 percent of Hispanics feared a deportation action against a friend or family member. Family values-oriented conservatives should understand that no matter a person’s politics, he will do anything to defend his family. That’s especially true for Hispanics, who tend to be very family values oriented. That includes forsaking every other political opinion he has and voting for the political party that he thinks won’t deport his grandmother.
Deportation rhetoric only pushes Hispanics, a natural conservative constituency, away from the Republican Party. They tend to be socially conservative and hostile to confiscatory taxes and regulation. They are generally poor but hard-working and entrepreneurial. Most of them have recent bad memories of confiscatory left-wing Latin American governments. They sound and act like conservatives and a reasonable Republican position on immigration could politically capture them.
Republicans should propose a reform that makes legal migration easier, cheaper, and quicker. It shouldn’t take over a decade for a lucky low-skilled Mexican worker to get a green card. A responsible middle ground on amnesty also needs to be proposed. 10.8 million illegal immigrants are not all going to be deported or convinced to leave. Fees, fines, language requirements, prohibiting access to government benefits and more in exchange for a path to legal status are smart and realistic conservative compromises.