Exit polls from the 2012 elections show that immigration was the single worst issue for Republicans. By a more than two-to-one margin, voters believed that illegal immigrants should be offered legal status rather than being deported. This issue undoubtedly influenced Hispanic voters and Asian voters to flock to Barack Obama by 71 and 73 percent respectively.
Obama’s record on immigration is less than stellar, but he proved less frightening than many Republicans. After ignoring the immigration issue for three years, the president issued constitutionally questionable orders to limit deportations. Although this order may have exceeded his authority as president, it proved more popular than Mitt Romney’s promise to veto the DREAM Act. Republican rhetoric on immigration has often been harsh, sometimes bordering on racist, and attempts by states to regulate illegal aliens were easily demonized by the Democrats.
Ironically, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that the state immigration laws are often bad for businesses. In Alabama, where the crackdown on illegal immigration was sold as a way to increase employment for U.S. citizens, there was a shortage of workers in industries that traditionally hired both legal and illegal Mexican immigrants. As Hispanics left the state regardless of their immigration status, employers turned to Haitian and African immigrants because native Alabamans did not pursue the open jobs. In 2011, the Journal reported that many crops were rotting the fields because there were not enough workers to harvest them.
In 2011, Georgia passed an immigration law similar to those of Arizona and Alabama. Implementation of the law was postponed by the courts, but parts of the injunction were lifted earlier this month. The law is intended to encourage illegal immigrants to leave the state, which may lead Georgia industries that depend on immigrant labor to experience difficulties in the coming year.
Republicans should recognize that the immigration problem is one of our own making. The tacit acceptance of illegal immigration for decades has encouraged more migrants to come to the U.S. to work. For years, immigration law was akin to the speed limit. Everybody knew that a lot of people were breaking the law, but it was accepted with a nod and wink. Large sectors of the economy now depend on labor provided by immigrants who entered the country illegally.
Republicans should also realize that these immigrants are coming to the country in pursuit of the American dream as our own ancestors did. Immigrants come to this country because opportunities are not good in their homelands. They come here to provide for their families and to make a better life, just as the English, Irish, Germans, and multitudes of others did since the birth of America.
The dilemma is that the needs of the economy must be squared with the need for national security in the post-9/11 world. The border must be secured to prevent the infiltration of terrorists, but legal immigration should be encouraged. In no case should otherwise law-abiding immigrants be deported simply for entering the country illegally or for something as simple as a traffic infraction. The idea of splitting up families and deporting parents or children is not something that a pro-family party should endorse.
Stories abound of illegal immigrants like Jose Castro, arrested in Hall County, Ga. for fishing without a license and threatened with deportation. In another Georgia case, Jessica Colotl was a college student arrested for driving without a license in Atlanta. After the arrest, Colotl, a Kennesaw State University student, was revealed to have entered the U.S. illegally as a ten-year-old. These cases make Republican immigration hardliners look heartless. Worse, it pushes millions of voters into the arms of President Obama and the Democrats.
The obvious solution is to allow migrants to enter the country on work visas. Illegal immigrants who are here already should be allowed to stay provided that they register with the government and pay a fine. They should not be granted amnesty or citizenship, but the right to work legally is something that both the immigrants and employers need. It would also be a boon to the government by bringing part of the underground economy into the light where it can be taxed and regulated.
It is simply not realistic to expect immigrants already in this country, many of whom already own homes or businesses, to return to their native countries before being able to obtain legal status. In many cases, the illegal aliens came here at such a young age that they have no real connection to their so-called homelands and don’t even speak the language there. A solution that is so draconian as to be unworkable is not a solution at all. If the solution is too harsh, illegal immigrants will simply remain in the shadows.
It should be easier for immigrants to come to the U.S. legally. It has long been noted that the U.S. is suffering a “brain drain” of university students who come to the U.S. to study but are unable to stay here to work. These students with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees then go abroad to work for competitors of U.S. companies. This is causing a shortage of technical workers in the U.S. Foreign STEM graduates don’t take jobs from Americans because very few Americans pursue these types of degrees.
If it weren’t for the immigration controversy, Republicans might get more votes from minority voters as well. Many immigrants tend to be socially conservative. According to a Pew poll, foreign born Hispanics tend to be much more conservative than their U.S. born counterparts. Many Hispanics also tend to be pro-life and strongly oppose same-sex marriage. They also tend to be very religious and religious voters tend to favor the GOP. Likewise, Asian voters have many reasons to lean Republican as well, but have not done so in recent elections.
It is extremely likely that the next four years of Barack Obama will prove as disastrous for immigrants and minorities as they will for the rest of the population. The 2012 election should underscore the fact that many people need more than an economic reason to cast a ballot for a Republican. They need to feel that they aren’t hated.
Republicans can reach out to the immigrant and minority communities by taking the initiative on immigration reform. Immigration languished on President Obama’s backburner for more than three years until he needed Hispanic votes for the election. He has very little credibility on the issue, but Republicans have even less. They might be able to change that by promoting common sense reforms that work for both immigrants and businesses.
Originally published on Examiner.com: