Jobs will certainly be the number-one issue for Hispanic voters next November, as it will be for all Americans. But how candidates speak about immigration influences Hispanic voters' perception of whether they are welcome in the GOP. And most of the candidates have still not managed to learn how to talk about this emotional issue in a way that demonstrates their commitment to a secure border but doesn't end up alienating potential Hispanic voters.
Instead of intoning, "I would build a fence on America's southern border -- on every mile, on every yard, on every foot, on every inch of the southern border," as Michelle Bachmann did last week, they ought to try listening to Ronald Reagan on the issue.
In 1980, when Reagan was running for the GOP nomination against Texan George H. W. Bush, he had this to say: "Rather than talking about putting up a fence ... why don't we make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit? And then, while they are working and earning, they can pay taxes here."
The illegal immigration issue is easy to solve -- and at far less cost than building a nearly 2,000-mile fence along our southern border. Create a legal way for workers willing to do jobs that Americans shun -- even during periods of high unemployment -- and you will eliminate about 90 percent of illegal immigration. And those new, legal workers will pay taxes, buy American services and products, rent and buy homes that now sit vacant, and bolster the economies of communities that are now suffering.
Now if one of the GOP Reagan-wannabes up on the stage during the next debate would sound a little more like the Gipper, he or she might stand a chance of winning 40 percent or more of the Hispanic vote -- and the presidency -- in 2012. It worked for Reagan.
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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