Immigration reform legislation is probably dead this year -- which, no doubt, pleases some conservatives. But the issue isn't going away. And if conservatives hope to become the dominant force in American politics, we need to figure out a way to resolve the problem without alienating the country's fastest growing demographic, Hispanics.
I delivered that message last week to some 10,000 conservatives gathered at the annual CPAC meeting in Washington. The message seemed to resonate among many in the audience -- a minority to be sure, but a fairly large one.
I wasn't surprised. Conservatives are not monolithic in their views on immigration policy, even if the media sometimes act as if anyone who favors immigration reform is a liberal -- or, in the increasingly popular buzzword, a progressive. To the contrary, I would argue that the real "progressives" in the immigration debate are the immigration restrictionists who offer nothing but Big Government/Big Brother solutions to the problem -- and those who favor market-based legal immigration are the true conservatives.
We've been here before. The Progressive Movement was instrumental in restricting immigration in the early 20th Century. Progressives believed in the ability to perfect society and its inhabitants. They promoted birth control, forced sterilization, and eugenics to weed out native-born "undesirables" and pushed for immigration restriction to keep out Italians, Jews, Poles, and others they deemed unfit to become Americans. Their shining achievement was the 1924 Immigration Act, which largely shut the door on immigration from southern and eastern Europe.
Today, groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and its research arm, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), are the inheritors of the Progressive Movement's anti-immigration mantle. John Tanton, who founded FAIR, CIS, Numbers USA and a plethora of other anti-immigration groups, is a self-described progressive who first became involved in public policy issues in the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood, later becoming president of Zero Population Growth.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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