Matt Lewis

Instead of scuttling immigration reform, conservatives should work to fix it

Conservative critics of immigration reform don’t just think the framework proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio (and seven other U.S. Senators) is bad policy — they also think it would be electoral suicide for the GOP.

They have a point. Republicans have dug themselves in such a deep hole that more Hispanic citizens probably does equal more Democratic votes — at least, in the short term.

But the first step when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.

There are plenty of substantive reasons why conservatives ought to favor more legal Hispanic immigration. But even if you cast aside policy and morality — and focus solely on electoral concerns — the cost of doing nothing should also give conservatives pause.

No, fixing the immigration system won’t be a panacea. Nobody serious is suggesting that. But as AEI’s James Pethokoukis, has argued it is a “gateway policy needed before conservatives can begin to make their case to that community.”

This is not to say we should pass a something for the symbolic sake of passing something. The devil, of course, is in the details. And one can’t endorse a bill which doesn’t yet exist. But assuming Rubio gets what he’s been pushing for — including employment verification and making sure the border is secure before citizenship is granted —  conservatives concerned about elections should also consider the long-term costs of doing nothing.

Unfortunately, the predictable reaction from some on the right has been to immediately label the framework “Shamnesty.” It’s fun to destroy things — to criticize. And so, the knee-jerk reaction from some has been to assume Rubio’s measures either aren’t enough, won’t work, or won’t be implemented — in short, to assume that Rubio will be rolled.

It might now be appropriate to consider how this will play out. There has been a lot of talk about what will happen if immigration reform passes — but what will happen if Republicans kill it?

As TheDC’s Jeff Poor reported, the topic came up on “The McLaughlin Group “this week. It went like this:

“The path to citizenship in my judgment is going to fail,” Buchanan said. “It will certainly be stopped in the House, and I think Marco Rubio, who has gotten himself out front on it, will be badly damaged, because I think there’s going to be a rising populist reaction to his proposal.”


Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift agreed with Buchanan, adding that the downfall of immigration reform would also cost Republicans generally in the 2014 midterms.

If Buchanan and Clift are right in predicting immigration reform will fail to pass the House, then I have a few thoughts on the unintended consequences of stasis.

First, we will still be left with 11 million illegal aliens.

Second, this will have ensured that nothing will be done to fix the problem in the foreseeable future (after all, immigration reform nearly doomed John McCain’s presidential chances in 2007. And if Marco Rubio can’t get it done six years later — after Mitt Romney lost 70+ percent of the Hispanic vote — you tell me which Republican will be crazy enough to attempt it again?)

Lastly, (with help from the media, of course) the GOP will have reinforced — and, I think, cemented the notion (for a generation, at least) — that the Republican Party is a “Know Nothing” party for rich white men. (Now you and I can argue that this is simply not true. And we can point to lots of examples of why this isn’t the case. But perception is what matters in the world of public relations, and the optics will be horrible.)

This, of course, would be a shame — and a huge missed opportunity. But it doesn’t have to end this way.

For the first time, conservatives have one of their own in the room working on immigration. Instead of attacking Rubio, conservatives should seize this opportunity to offer constructive support.

So here is my call to conservatives to be constructive in suggesting ideas and improvements. Rather than being on the outside — with no choice but to bring immigration reform down — why not suggest a few ways to fix it?