Opinion: 2016 candidates need realistic immigration plans

Who won? Did any of the candidates make inroads with Hispanic voters?


“Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”

These are the words Scott Leader, a South Boston resident, allegedly told police Wednesday after he and his brother were arrested for ambushing a homeless man because he was Hispanic, according to the Boston Globe.  

Donald Trump’s reported response was, “it would be a shame … I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

The result of hateful speech by presidential candidates is hateful actions by their followers. And Trump’s response is not acceptable. It is tacit endorsement of this horrific crime. Trump and all the candidates need to be aware of the possible consequences of what they say.

When it comes to immigration, the GOP fight for the nomination is officially a race to the bottom. With the exception of a very few, Trump’s fellow candidates are veering extreme right in an effort to energize “the base.”

We’ve seen versions of this movie before. In 2012, in an effort to appeal to a restrictionist base, Mitt Romney advocated for “self-deportation” and lost the Latino vote by 44 percentage points. And yet, a handful of candidates this time around are sounding even more inflammatory.

“We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform,” the Republican National Committee’s post-2012 “autopsy” states. “If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”

When it comes to this report, it seems that more than half the GOP candidates for president are either willfully ignorant or shockingly forgetful.

Instead of striving for policy solutions that bring out the best America has to offer and increase our competitiveness, many (though not all) candidates are putting forth ideas that isolate us from the world and shamefully scapegoat immigrants, especially Latinos.

What candidates are saying and what the majority of Republicans in Congress are doing is pushing the country’s fastest-growing electorate away from the GOP as quickly as possible.

As a leading Republican once told me, “A party that wins only a small percentage of the nonwhite vote deserves to lose and has no moral authority.”

Put aside the moral and political quandary facing the Republican Party. This is awful for democracy. How can our society flourish when anger and fear dominate the ideology of a major political party?

We cannot have a serious debate about policy solutions in a reality TV atmosphere. The effects of our broken immigration system are real. Candidates and legislators must engage in debate that recognizes reality and honors our values.  

It is long past time for the Republican debate to get serious about immigration. And, by the way, a strong 50 percent plurality of Republicans, and 65 percent of Americans overall, want immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship.

When we address how to help immigrants contribute fully by making available the opportunities, skills and status for them to reach their fullest potential, America is thriving.

When presidential candidates are tacitly endorsing alleged hate crimes, America is failing.

Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum and author of “There Goes the Neighborhood” (Prometheus Books, April 2017).