by Elliot Fladen (re-posted with author’s permission – original link to The Gazette)
In this November election’s wake, many conservatives have had their immigration views “evolve.” A second group of conservatives view this not as progress but rather as “pandering” at principle’s expense.
This second group is half right: political realities are motivating conservatives to re-examine their immigration positions. However, the possible change would be a return to principle rather than a move away from it.
We know immigration is influencing the Hispanic vote, both from polling and also the steady decline in the GOP Hispanic vote share since immigration became a national issue. We also know this population is rapidly increasing as a percentage of the electorate. In fact, their numbers have now reached the point where Romney could have won the election with sufficient Hispanic support.
Even worse for the GOP, the Hispanic vote becomes ever more important each election, not merely relative to those who would restrict immigration on suspect reasons (“Nativists”), but also to the electorate as a whole.
Yet the Nativists greet any call for reforming the immigration code with catcalls of “amnesty” and “secure the border first.” For them, an immigration policy of anything other than enforcing existing law or reducing further avenues for legal immigration smacks of pandering. What is noteworthy about these nativists is that although they couch their opposition to changing immigration law in the name of “principle,” they never describe how the law as it is written embraces conservative values or free market principles. They never describe how for a simple reason: their cry of “principle” is empty.
Granted, an immigration system based on those values and principles would screen people at the border. However, this screening for legal residency would be based solely on keeping out security threats and economic burdens.
It would not be based on giving freebies to special interests by keeping out their competition. And it would be humane — doing its utmost to respect the dignity of American families.
The immigration system described above is not our immigration system. For many employment visa applicants, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services require certifications to “ensur[e] that foreign workers seeking immigrant visa classifications are not displacing equally qualified U.S. workers.”
And if the worker is unskilled, there are few, if any, avenues for legal immigration. Apparently this lack of an avenue is due to “job protection” again. Moreover, for U.S. citizens or soldiers who find true love with an unauthorized immigrant, they all too often are forced to choose between exile from this country or living without their spouse for 10 years or more.
Separating American citizens or soldiers from their spouses for 10 years or more is not a policy based on family values. And requiring that we use immigration law to “safeguard” jobs from competition is not based on adherence to the ideas of free market capitalism.
It is nothing other than pandering. And it is pandering with a high cost. As an illustration, one eventual Colorado gubernatorial candidate proposed a three year moratorium of all legal immigration in a 2010 article entitled “Ultimate Jobs Program: Immigration Timeout.”
In the election later that year which he lost, he is estimated to have received less than 15 percent of the Hispanic vote while the winner received over 75 percent and a third candidate got most of the remainder.
Sacrificing principles to pander to Nativists makes no sense if it costs you elections. And although we need a serious and principled-based discussion on immigration, to thoughtlessly repeat “secure the border first” and “enforce the existing law” is to instead parrot a mantra based in pandering.
So when you see some in conservative circles float ideas beyond the above mantra, they are not necessarily contemplating straying from principle — they are perhaps contemplating returning to it. And such a return to principle cannot happen soon enough if the GOP hopes to remain politically viable going forward.
Elliot Fladen is a commercial litigator practicing in Denver. He blogs at www.fladenlaw.com.