With the recent announcement of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s endorsement of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, things are about to get really interesting concerning the GOP’s relationship with America’s fastest growing demographic group (i.e. Hispanics). As a darling of the tea-party, Gov. Jan Brewer’s latest political move is clearly meant to shore up and consolidate Gov. Romney’s support among the most (supposedly) conservative elements of the Republican Party. While the endorsement of one of America’s most well-known governors might seem like a boon on a superficial level, it most definitely will not fare well for a party that is currently struggling to expand its base in an era of rapidly changing demographics. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has been leading the calls for the GOP to moderate on the immigration issue, recently stated that the GOP presidential candidates are appealing to people’s fears instead of offering a bigger vision of where the United States should be in the future. With Gov. Romney’s assertion at Arizona’s GOP debate that the Arizona immigration law serves as a ‘model,’ it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to move to the ideological center as the election approaches.
As perhaps the most prominent champion of one of the harshest and most controversial immigration laws in America, S.B. 1070, Gov. Brewer has undoubtedly blacklisted herself with most Hispanic-Americans. Though immigration is not the defining issue for Hispanic-Americans, it nonetheless serves as a mobilizing factor. Recent polls suggest that a vast majority of Hispanics support the DREAM Act and some kind of pathway to citizenship for those illegal immigrants that have behaved in a self-respecting manner while in this country. While Gov. Brewer’s endorsement of Gov. Romney, himself a supporter of “self-deportation,” might temporarily boost the Massachusetts governor’s standing among a fringe segment of the GOP, it most certainly will not translate to electoral college votes during the general election. Sounding the alarm months ago, Senator McCain stated that Arizona, traditionally a red state, would likely be up for grabs this election cycle. Given the state’s growing and increasingly politically active Hispanic population (indeed, a trend that is developing around the nation), this could potentially spell disaster for a party that is still not adapting to the changing demographics of the country. I will argue the following here now: if the GOP does not get serious about expanding its base, it will become increasingly difficult for Republicans to win elections at the local, state, and national levels in the years to come. While I have previously argued that immigration is not the defining issue among Hispanic-Americans, who can not and should not be treated as a monolithic whole due to their shared use of Spanish as their mother tongue, it is nonetheless imperative that Hispanic-Americans are not made to feel any less American than their Non-Hispanic counterparts. If people feel that they are being singled out because of the way they look, that creates a lasting impression, a feeling that will stick with Hispanics as they enter the voting booth. They will remember those who make them feel unwelcome or alien, even if they are here in this country legally. S.B. 1070, while intended to enforce immigration laws that the federal government has largely failed to enforce, is flawed on various levels. Yet, it is perhaps this law’s attack on the inherent dignity of each person that has the most damaging effect not only on the GOP, but on American political discourse as well.
Though my statements above may seem somewhat off to a Republican nowadays, President Reagan as well as a whole host of conservatives from years past fall very much in line with a more holistic, understanding, and compassionate approach on the issue of illegal immigration. A few days ago, I happened to come across a YouTube clip of a 1980 presidential primary debate between President George H.W. Bush and President Reagan. What I heard in that debate almost brought tears to my eyes, in the sense that it captured what the GOP once stood for. Without flinching, President Reagan stated the following: “Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, and make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit? And then while they’re working and earning here they pay taxes here, and when they want to go back, they go back and they can cross and…open the border both ways.” Though this quote was made over 30 years ago and the immigration landscape has changed, the fundamental argument that President Reagan makes is still extremely relevant today: immigrants contribute to our economy and the root causes of illegal immigration are deserving of our attention. President Reagan was clearly placing the economic and social well-being of this great nation ahead of petty political pandering, and this is a quality of his that I feel helped make him one of this nation’s greatest presidents and leaders.
If the GOP expects to remain competitive and reflective of what makes America the greatest country on earth, it must reform itself now as a party that is inclusive, dynamic, and responsive to this nation’s most pressing issues. I have hope that this can be accomplished, and this is witnessed in the simple things. Today, for instance, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida met with a young (undocumented) valedictorian from his home state and offered her an expression of support after a federal immigration judge ruled that she must return to Colombia, despite growing up in this country as an American and not claiming any other nation as her own. This simple act of understanding and compassion on Senator Rubio’s part goes a very long way in terms of leadership and setting the right tone. In the words of Daniela Pelaez, the young undocumented student previously mentioned: “I just want to pursue the American dream like any other child.”