Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Opinion: GOP is still not serious about immigration reform

U.S Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) (L) and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) (R) listen during a news conference November 27, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Senator Hutchison and Kyl held a news conference to discuss immigration reform.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The ability of the GOP to develop a long-term strategy to grow the party appears to be in crisis. The party which was once confident about its own values has grown perpetually concerned about its ability to diversify its appeal.

Over the last decade, the GOP strategy to win elections has been basically this: limit the participation of minorities through onerous registration and voting laws, and do anything possible to obstruct the political integration of the growing Latino population. But if blowhards like Rush Limbaugh were so sure of the universal appeal of their message, immigration reform and voting laws would be a non-issue.

Perhaps it is because their message isn’t so universal, and instead panders to a specific group of voters that they are so concerned about immigration reform. The GOP talking heads love to rail against ethnic pandering, yet when ninety percent of your voters are non-Hispanic white and your most reliable voter base is the retirement community, cultural pandering is exactly what you are doing.

Nowhere is this pandering more evident than when the GOP is forced to confront immigration reform. The fight over immigration reform began with a whimper yesterday when lame duck Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona presented an alternative to the Dream Act that would offer legal status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, but differed in that it would not provide beneficiaries with a pathway to citizenship.

It is not clear what purpose yesterday’s event served but to reaffirm in the minds of Latinos that the GOP is fundamentally unserious about immigration reform.

The Democrats are expected to lay out their own framework for immigration reform today, which will be broader in scope and address the problems with our immigration system that impacts more than just Dreamers. Given the political climate, the Democrats are right to focus the discussion on comprehensive reform, but it seems that the GOP response will be once again to limit the discussion to variations of the Dream Act.

Which is odd given that just last week, Republicans such as Carlos Gutierrez formed a super-PAC to help shape the immigration debate for the party. Apparently, someone forgot to tell Mrs. Hutchinson and Mr. Kyl. Perhaps Senator Rubio, who is still working on his own version of the Dream Act is coordinating with Mr. Gutierrez.

The fight over whether we have a piecemeal approach or a comprehensive solution will be the center of the battle over immigration reform. President Obama has indicated that he is committed to comprehensive reform that addresses family cohesion, status normalization and the economic needs of the country, but there is no indication by any Republicans that they are committed to this.

The GOP should be called out on this, and since Mr. Gutierrez has volunteered to be the face of Latino outreach for the party, perhaps he should be the one to answer questions about the lack of seriousness coming from his people.

None of this is very encouraging if you are a Republican who views this issue as an important first step in building a party for the future. So far there has been much talk about toning down the assault on Latinos by the GOP, but sending out lame duck Senators to get the ball rolling with proposals that are non-starters is probably not a good way to begin.

If the GOP plans on being serious about winning over Latino voters they should stop promoting half-baked approaches to immigration reform that display an utter lack of confidence in its ability to broaden the party’s appeal. The GOP claims that its values are based on the universality of the founding principles of the country, but if that were true, the stonewalling we’re seeing by Hutchinson and Kyl wouldn’t make such a mockery of that belief.

Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.

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