Steve Chapman

In 2012, the Republican Party stood for the ancient biblical proposition that the sins of the father should be visited upon the son. Mitt Romney captured its presidential nomination while vowing to veto the Dream Act, which would allow immigrants brought here illegally as children to gain citizenship.

Not coincidentally, Romney lost the election while getting just 27 percent of the Latino vote. Many Republicans concluded they had no choice but to revamp their policies on issues of particular concern to Hispanics. As prominent conservative blogger Erick Erickson so bluntly put it, "The fastest growing demographic in America isn't going to vote for a party that sounds like that party hates brown people."

The new statement of "principles on immigration" issued by congressional Republicans does not sound hateful toward brown people. In fact, it flatly contradicts Romney on the Dream Act. "It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, those who know no other place as home," it declares.

That's not the only change. The 2012 party platform heaped scorn on "any form of amnesty for those who, by intentionally violating the law, disadvantage those who have obeyed it" and promised steps to force what Romney winningly called "self-deportation."

But this outline agrees, a bit grudgingly, that "these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S." if they meet certain requirements, like paying back taxes, passing background checks and learning English. Only a "special path to citizenship" is categorically rejected.

On the latter point, the Republicans disagree with President Barack Obama, who wants to create a new avenue for the undocumented to be naturalized. But Republicans don't rule out eventual citizenship, and they do address the most pressing concerns of the people here illegally: ending their fear of deportation and letting them work legally.

It's a major change, which makes it significant but also risky -- not because of the response it may draw from Hispanics but because of the reaction it may provoke among Republicans. Many of them see unauthorized migrants as an affront to the rule of law, an alien cultural influence and a political threat.

The House GOP leadership has the thankless task of changing the minds of these conservatives -- or at least keeping them from a revolt that would derail legislation and further alienate Latino voters. The need to appease tea partiers explains why the blueprint contains so many tough but ill-considered demands.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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