Daniel and Michael reject a Republican embrace of amnesty. They argue that it’s a quick fix that will alienate the base, working and middle-class whites, while failing to attract support among Hispanics. I’d add that the willingness of the conservative establishment to move to the left on this issue shows where their real concerns lie. They wouldn’t dream of compromising on a bellicose foreign policy and remain stalwart defenders of regressive taxation. But they’re happy to add millions of low-wage, low-skill workers to the legal labor force, further driving down wages.
But amnesty is a straw man. There are immigration reforms that Republicans could pursue without abandoning the base. These include several of the ideas in the DREAM act, especially a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who serve in the military or earn a college degree. Combined with the closure of the family reunification loophole and stricter enforcement at the border and in the workplace, policies like these could help Republicans move beyond a dogmatic law and order position without giving up conservative principles.
Would this kind of compromise draw significant Hispanic support to the GOP? By itself, it would not. As Heather Mac Donald points out, immigration is not the only reason that Hispanics vote for Democrats. Hispanics make disproportionate use of government programs. They tend to want those programs to continue, which the Democrats promise to do. What’s more, many Hispanics are turned off by the individualist rhetoric of the contemporary GOP. They suspect, rightly in my view, that GOP policies favor the rich.
So immigration reform is not a sufficient condition of Republican success among Hispanic voters. It may, however, be a necessary one. If they want to win national elections, Republicans need to convince more voters that they care about people who aren’t white, old, or “job creators” (read, employers). A package of immigrations reforms that reward personal accomplishment while cracking down on big companies that rely on cheap illegal labor could help accomplish that.
Of course, there any many Hispanics who will never vote for Republicans. But that’s okay: Republicans don’t need to win Hispanics. They only need to be more competitive.
Daniel points out that George W. Bush, who made a point of support for a liberalized immigration policy, won only 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. That’s true. But he also twice won the presidency.