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Immigration Reform Shouldn't Be About Winning Elections

Christian Patterson |
November 21, 2012 | 9:34 a.m. PST


Right now it seems as if politicians are using immigration reform to obtain votes. (Boss Tweed, Creative Commons)
Right now it seems as if politicians are using immigration reform to obtain votes. (Boss Tweed, Creative Commons)
There has been a great deal of talk about immigration reform in the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat earlier this month. Conservative leaders from Sean Hannity to Charles Krauthammer to Marco Rubio have initiated a conversation on how the Republican Party can push its own form of comprehensive federal immigration reform.

Our immigration system is obviously broken. The process for those who wish to come into this country legally is cumbersome, expensive and often drags on for years. There are thousands of Dreamers – young people who were brought into the U.S. illegally at a very early age, never having known their home country – who face limited opportunities, an uncertain future and the very real possibility that they will be sent back to a nation they aren't familiar with. And these issues only scratch the surface of the problem, considering that there are an estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country, and that we have been unable to secure our border to ensure that we know who crosses it.

The need for immigration reform is evident, and in any other climate the GOP would have been praised for taking up an issue of such importance to so many Americans. The problem is that this isn’t any other climate. Many of the Republican leaders who are championing reform are only doing so in order to win future elections. How do we know this? Well, because they’ve told us so.

When Sean Hannity changed his tune on immigration reform, he didn’t speak of his compassion for millions of Dreamers who desperately need it. His rationale was: “we’ve got to get rid of the immigration issue altogether” in order for the GOP to continue to compete. Krauthammer’s call for amnesty was coupled with the acknowledgement that he’d always been of the “enforcement first” school, but that amnesty is what the Republican party needs to push in order to beat Democrats.

When Romney asserted that he lost the election because Obama offered gifts to blacks and Latinos, Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana (and probable 2016 hopeful), said: “we as a Republican Party have to campaign for every single vote. We don’t start winning majorities...by insulting our voters.” That’s not a condemnation of Romney for saying that minorities are lazy and want stuff. That’s a “shhh...we’re never going to win if they know we think that.”

No one is saying that all Republicans care only about immigration reform for the purpose of winning elections. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, two prominent Floridian politicians, have called for a change in GOP strategy on immigration throughout this election season. But the vast majority of the Republican party has not, and the comments of some of their most prominent commentators, thinkers and elected officials demonstrates that this change of heart is not wholly altruistic.

I’m happy that immigration reform is finally being brought to the forefront of the national debate. I’m ecstatic that we’re no longer talking about “electric fences” and making life so miserable for immigrants that people have to leave. I just wish the debate was actually about the people who are suffering the consequences of Washington’s failure to act, rather than about winning electoral majorities. I fear that reform based on political gamesmanship won’t yield the type of discussion (and ultimately legislation) that will really solve the immigration problem that confronts us.


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