Within days of President Obama’s reelection, a number of miraculous conversions occurred among Republicans with regard to immigration policy.
Sean Hannity, the conservative Fox News host stated: "We've gotta get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It's simple for me to fix it. I think you control the border first, you create a pathway for those people that are here, you don't say you gotta go home. And that is a position that I've evolved on. Because you know what—it just—it's gotta be resolved. The majority of people here—if some people have criminal records you can send 'em home—but if people are here, law-abiding, participating, four years, their kids are born here ... first secure the border, pathway to citizenship ... then it's done. But you can't let the problem continue. It's gotta stop.”
Even more remarkable, John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House seems to have experienced a similar conversion at exactly the same instant as Mr. Hannity: “This issue has been around far too long…A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."
The cynical among us would probably attribute these simultaneous conversions to the fact that President Obama received over 70% of the Latino vote. Why was that? In the Republican primaries, Mitt Romney moved to the right of both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich on the immigration issue. He vowed to veto the Dream Act should it reach his desk, and seemed horrified by the Texas law which allows home state Dreamers to qualify for in-state tuition. Such stands helped him win the Republican nomination, but proven disastrous in the general election.
So now, will Republicans in Congress wise up and support Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR)? Despite the twin conversions mentioned above, I am not so sure. Indeed, Boehner does not seem to have consulted the members of his caucus in advance of his sudden change of heart.
Consider the words of Representative John Fleming (R-LA): “(Boehner was) getting ahead of House Republicans when he commits to getting a `comprehensive approach' to immigration…There's been zero discussion of this issue within the conference, and I'm urging the speaker to talk with House Republicans before making pledges on the national news.”
Sadly, it seems that many Republican members of Congress are not about to change their negative positions on immigration despite the election results. The good news is that if even a couple of dozen Republican Representatives vote for CIR, it could become law in 2013. However, whether Boehner can persuade enough of his caucus to support CIR remains to be seen.
Republicans have not traditionally been hostile to immigration. I am old enough to remember when President Reagan, a Republican icon, signed the last CIR law in 1986. I also remember when Spencer Abraham (R-MI) was the pro-immigration Chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Anti-immigrant groups were largely responsible for his reelection defeat in 2000. I testified before that Subcommittee in 2001 when the pro-immigration Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) became the Chairman.
But times have changed. The formerly pro-immigration Republican members of Congress have removed their names as sponsors of the DREAM Act. Under pressure from the extreme right, reasonable Republicans like Senator John McCain and Orin Hatch have renounced their earlier support for pro-immigration legislation in order to be reelected. Indeed, support for immigration reform has become heresy for Republicans much to their detriment as a viable political party. Don’t take my word for this.
Listen to what the very conservative former House Republican Majority Leader **** Armey has been saying about immigration and the Latino vote for the past few years: “Anti-immigration has always been ironic, because throughout our history newcomers have been a source of strength, not weakness.” “Who in the Republican Party was the genius who said now that we have identified the fastest-growing demographic in America, let's go out and alienate them? This is a nation of immigrants. ... There is room in America.”
Carl Shusterman is a certified Specialist in Immigration Law, State Bar of California. He was a former U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service Attorney and worked for the Board of Governors, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.