Martinez: Immigrants and the GOP, continued

November 20, 2012 

Just as I expected, some conservatives have questioned (that’s putting it politely) my honesty, patriotism and intellect for writing that Republicans must change their head-in-the-sand, enforcement-only attitude toward immigration reform if they ever hope to become a majority party again on the national level.

I won’t retaliate with the same name-calling I’ve received. Instead, I’ll let others do it for me.

“Frankly, it’s time for us to stop listening to the people with the smallest brains and biggest mouths.” That’s Dr. Richard Land, referring to Republicans who are intransient on immigration reform. Land is a proud, church-going, conservative Republican from Texas and president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Thanks, Dr. Land.

I’d also like to thank Americans for Tax Reform president and proud conservative Grover Norquist. On Monday, during remarks before the Center for National Interest, Norquist advised Republicans not to become more liberal in response to the 2012 shellacking. He also expressed frustration at what he sees as the hijacking of the party’s stance on immigration.

As he put it, the Republican Party’s core constituencies – the business sector, conservative economists and leaders from the faith community – understand that immigration reform is the moral and economically smart thing to do. He lamented that their common sense approach has been drowned out.

“We ended up with a few loud voices, from monochromatic districts who represented nobody but themselves, and yet there was a sense that were a jillion bullfrogs in that pond, it’s so loud. No, when you drain the pond, there are three.”

I’m not going to kid you. When I’ve advanced conservative arguments for reform, it’s been tough not to interpret some of the strident opposition I’ve encountered as a rhetorical shield for those who believe the United States already has too many Mexicans. So again, I’ll lean on Dr. Land.

In column for the Christian Post entitled, “The Night the GOP Began to Lose the 2012 Election,” Land laments the booing at then-GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry by a Tampa Bay audience. The jeers were triggered by Perry’s defense of a Texas law that allowed children of illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition rates. Land told an American Enterprise Institute audience on Monday that he was ashamed of his party that night.

“These young people have done nothing wrong. They have broken no law,” Land said emphatically. “They are here because of their parents’ actions and I don’t believe the United States of America is a country that wants to punish children for their parents’ behavior.

“These young people want to be Americans, they want to improve themselves and be contributors to our economy and it is immoral for us to put barricades in their path.” He added, “I can understand why Hispanics would say, Republicans don’t like us. That’s not true, but you wouldn’t know it by the behavior of that crowd, that night.”

He’s right. It’s tough to vote for a candidate of a party you think dislikes you. In my experience, the behavior Land described is common and I suspect it’s a key reason Barack Obama garnered about seven out of 10 Hispanic votes.

Republicans must also stop equating reform with amnesty or as a pass to supplant American culture. Conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru emphasizes that assimilation must be central to reform. New residents, as he sees it, must be able to demonstrate they have the economic and social skills to support themselves. That means becoming English-proficient. New residents must see themselves as Americans first and be perceived as such by their neighbors.

Assimilation does not mean, Ponnuru says, relinquishing one’s culture. To the contrary, immigrants have always helped enrich and shape American culture. Assimilation directs cultural diversity toward common goals and values.

Ultimately, Republicans must understand that immigration reform doesn’t require the party to abandon conservative principles. It does require putting those principles into practice.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez (rickjmartinez2@gmail.com) is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and SGRToday.com

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