If any single conclusion can be drawn from the proliferation of speeches, proposals and suggestions by Republican party leaders during the past two weeks, it is that the GOP, except for a dwindling group of right wing fringe hard liners, is open to the idea of immigration reform, including some form of provisional legalization, or relief from deportation, for 11 million unauthorized immigrants, most of whom are Latinos. Of course, this represents a major change.
Only a year ago, as the Republican primary was heating up, the candidates were outdoing themselves to see who could take a harder line on unauthorized, or, "illegal", immigrants, with the top prize probably going to Herman Cain and his electrified border fence proposal. Clearly, Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" was hot, and Rick Perry's "have a heart" was not. Campaigning with Kris Kobach and Sheriff Joe was the order of the day.
What a change there has been since the Republicans woke up to a different world of immigration on November 7, 2012. One by one, their leaders have been falling all over themselves to go on record as supporting immigration reform. But how much reform?
Many years ago, the New Yorker magazine ran a cartoon showing someone sitting in a lawyer's office while the lawyer was asking him: "Exactly how much justice can you afford?"
In the same way, one might ask House and Senate Republicans today: "How much immigration reform can you tolerate?" The answer would have to be: "Not very much." The Republican strategy appears to be a minimalist approach of accepting the least amount of reform possible in order to be able to claim that the GOP is not obstructing reform, or even to blame the Democrats for "killing" reform by "asking for too much".
It is hard to see any other purpose in the Republican members of the Group of Eight Senators' proposal to put off full permanent resident status for unauthorized immigrants almost indefinitely, or in the proposal of influential House Republicans to do immigration reform incrementally.
This minimalist approach is also evident in the substance of the proposals which have been put out so far, at least in Congress. No immigration benefits for same sex marriage. No real reform in admitting more skilled workers, except for a handful of STEM green cards, conditional on labor certification and on slamming the doors shut against African and Bangladeshi diversity visa lottery applicants.
The only thing that is "generous" in the Republican proposals is the billions of dollars that would be thrown away on more border fences, drones, immigration prisons, and unworkable entry-departure and workplace verification systems by the party of "balanced budgets" and "fiscal responsibility." If this is "reform", is reform worth having at all?
However, for those who believe in real immigration reform, as opposed to a Republican "RINO" (Reform In Name Only) version, there may be an unexpected source of support. A February 6 article in Politico: "Immigration's latest ally: Christian right, provides details.>
This article desceribes how a broad coalition of conservative religious leaders, including Ralph Reed, Matthew Staver, President of Liberty University, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, are now openly supporting reform. According to this article, this is in part due to the fact that Latino membership in conservative congregations is increasing, as well as the fact that many Latinos are regarded as sharing conservative Christian values on family and other "social issues".
Traditional Bible teachings regarding kindness toward strangers may also be playing a role, as well as a basic grass roots tolerance and acceptance of "other" people among the American "silent majority" which may have been obscured by a noisy minority of hate groups up to now.
For whatever reason, support from the Christian right for real reform, not the ersatz variety coming from Congressional Republicans so far, will be welcome, and pehaps even crucial, in the battle over immigration reform to come.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.