Most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support immigration reform. But tea party conservatives oppose what they call amnesty and everyone else calls a path to citizenship. They are determined to prevent it.
Now it’s up to Republicans in the House of Representatives — especially Speaker John Boehner — to show a nation grown cynical about politics that elected leaders can do what’s best for the country even when it means risking defeat at the polls. They have to stand up to the tea party and enact comprehensive reform.
Reform is crucial for economic reasons as much as humanitarian. It will allow the most talented foreign college students to remain in the United States — often Silicon Valley — to start careers and build businesses. It will enable farmers to find the low-wage workers they need to keep crops from rotting on the vine. It will help secure the border. And it will mean that 11 million undocumented immigrants now woven into the fabric of our society can finally participate freely in American life — including paying income and Social Security taxes.
The Senate last month passed a bipartisan bill, but the rhetoric of House Republicans makes it hard to imagine they will follow. Because of gerrymandering, the minority-view tea party holds inordinate power in many of its districts. That could mean the GOP majority passes a bill that, if enacted, would make matters worse — authorizing legalization but not citizenship, for example, to institutionalize second-class status.
This is nuts. The Senate bill is no liberal fantasy; it’s supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Republican-aligned groups run by the likes of Karl Rove. It would reduce the deficit by an estimated $700 billion over 20 years, boost gross domestic product and strengthen Social Security, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. As to the path to citizenship — or amnesty, if you prefer — conservative icon Ronald Reagan was a supporter.
Fourteen Republican senators voted for the bill, despite tea party warnings, at least in part because it’s in the GOP’s long-term interest.
“It’s really hard to get people to listen to you on economic growth, on tax rates, on health care if they think you want to deport their grandmother,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has said. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham is even more blunt about Republicans’ over-reliance on white Americans: “We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party.”
But these Republicans also know reform is in the best interest of the nation, and that the alternatives — a growing undocumented underclass or mass deportation — are untenable. So they risked right-wing opposition at home to get it passed. The country needs more leaders like this, with the integrity to do what’s right for America, even if it might cost them their jobs.
The nation also needs leaders who compromise, as Senate Democrats did. To win GOP votes, the bill includes $40 billion in wasteful security spending, adding 19,000 border agents to double the size of the force. It’s bizarre for a party that claims its chief concern is government spending, but it was the price of GOP support, so Democrats swallowed it.
Unlike senators, House Republicans rarely compromise. But reform still is possible, if Speaker Boehner shows enlightened leadership. He can bring a comprehensive reform measure — the Senate bill or an alternative — up for a House vote and get it passed with mostly Democratic votes.
Tea party congressmen threaten to oust Boehner as speaker if he does this. But so what? Boehner knows reform is needed. He presumably chose a career in politics because he cares about the country’s future. This is the time for him to put the national interest — and, incidentally, the GOP’s interest — first, even if a majority of the House Republicans he leads will not follow his example.
San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)