If Republicans would like to lose one election after another, all they have to do is continue to oppose true immigration reform, propose more laws like Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, and keep arguing in favor of a constitutional amendment that would strip undocumented immigrants’ children of their American citizenship. That would be a foolproof formula for losing the Hispanic vote — and thus, all elections for a very long time to come.
Maybe some congressional Republicans believe that reinforcing anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States will garner them votes in November. And in the short term, they may be correct. In the long term, however, attacking the country’s fastest-growing minority group will prove a kind of political suicide.
It is not in Republicans’ best interests to be perceived as the Hispanic population’s enemies. The 10 million Hispanic voters who turned out for the last presidential election will someday become 20 million — and that trend is not going to reverse.
National immigration reform will not be passed this year, and the responsibility for that failure should also be ascribed to Democrats and President Barack Obama. But I have written extensively about Obama’s broken campaign promise to initiate reform during his first year in office; let’s focus on the Republicans now.
In order to obtain the 60 votes necessary to pass immigration reform in the Senate, several Republicans would have to support the measure. Where are the 11 Republican senators who voted in favor of immigration reform just three years ago, when President George W. Bush fought for a bill to tighten borders, develop a guest-worker program and begin the process of legalizing some 12 million undocumented immigrants? I don’t see any of those senators stepping forward now — not one.
What happened to Senator John McCain of Arizona, who told me during his presidential campaign that he championed a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants? Back then, McCain referred to those immigrants as “God’s children,” but now he is against giving them legal status.
What happened to Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who in March, along with Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, presented a plausible immigration reform package? Four months later, Graham told Fox News that it is “a mistake” to grant automatic citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrant parents in the United States. What could have prompted Graham’s change of heart, except a wish to court the country’s most conservative constituents, who tend to favor harsh solutions and penalties?
Let’s be clear: Altering the 14th Amendment to the Constitution — which guarantees American citizenship to those born in the U.S. — is not going to solve the fundamental problem: 11 million undocumented immigrants live and work in this country. They are vital to the nation and its economy, and yet are forced to live in the shadows.
The theory known as attrition through enforcement — which holds that undocumented immigrants will simply leave the United States if life becomes unbearable for them here — is flawed. They will not go. They will just move to a different city or state. Hunger is a stronger motivator than fear.
Republican support for the extreme right is bound to end in failure. Even now, the discussion about attempting to reform the Constitution amounts to little more than small-time politicking. There is no evidence of widespread national support for such a radical change in future. Are Americans truly willing to deport babies and station police officers in hospital maternity wards?
Still, I’m surprised at how the tone of the debate surrounding immigration reform has changed over the last several months. It has been all but hijacked by the extremists. The White House has lost control over the debate, so instead of discussing the merits of true reform, journalists are reporting on the consequences of Arizona’s new law and the 14th Amendment.
Maybe this strategy will help the Republicans to win over certain voters in November. But Hispanic electors have very good memories, and they are not going to forget who attacked them when they were at their most vulnerable.
The truth is, Latinos have never really believed that Republicans would stand up for them and push for immigration reform. And if Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives in November, it could be years before any genuine immigration reform bill is put to a vote. Until then, the fate of millions of undocumented immigrants will hang in the balance.
In the meantime, the Hispanic vote will only increase in value. Republicans, you have been warned.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate
(July 19, 2010)