Like a lit stick of dynamite in a dam wall, President Barack Obama’s immigration executive orders have blown up the stasis of America’s immigration debate. After years of entrenched positioning of both parties, the president finally used his now famous pen and created a new dynamic; the immigration debate in America has changed forever. And that is a good thing for the country.
Early polls measuring the reaction of the American public, and of Latinos in particular, show that Obama has created a new immigration political framework, broadly embraced by the American people. Majorities of Americans support the president’s action, and a stunning 90 percent of Latinos not only support Obama’s actions, but 80 percent also think the Republicans should back off from their various efforts to roll back the executive actions.
As Republicans plan their responses to Obama’s immigration orders, they should be mindful that their actions are deeply influential to not just the viewpoint of Hispanics, but also to millions of other Americans.
A potential path forward to a final solution to the immigration morass that has kept America, a country built by immigrants, from having a 21st century immigration system serving the strategic needs of the nation is in sight—if Republicans in Congress finally advance with a comprehensive immigration bill.
At a time when most world powers are suffering different degrees of demographic challenges, such as rapid aging in China and outright decline, as in Italy and Russia, America boasts a vibrant, growing populace constantly refreshed by the arrival of new immigrants.While Japan, a society that is for a variety of reasons seemingly incapable of attracting and incorporating immigrants, tries to accommodate itself to a downward trend line in its population, the U.S. has completely mismanaged the opposite problem. The result has been years’ long waits for immigrants applying to come to the America; the booting-out of smart, highly trained students graduating from our universities and then unceremoniously sent back to their country of origin ready to be our most effective competitors; and then, of course, the ugly reality of the undocumented immigration parallel system.
While many Americans think that undocumented people principally surge through the southern border, some 40 percent of unauthorized immigrants actually come in jets, overstay their visas, and become part of the statistics. This is a complex problem not amenable to bromides about “securing the border.”
And clearly the spectacle of many politicians—almost exclusively on the extreme right of the Republican Party—campaigning against “illegals,” comparing Dreamers to drug mules, and accusing immigrants of both being Ebola carriers and ISIS sleeper cells with intent to behead Americas has created a particularly hostile environment for most Hispanics in this country.
According to a recent poll, Hispanics are the least esteemed component of the American population. The years of anti-Latino propaganda have taken their toll, morphing Hispanics into unrecognizable cartoons, conveniently, and falsely, illustrating everything that is wrong for America.
Obama’s immigration orders have the potential to liberate both Latinos from this awful ethnic branding crisis and Republicans, whose esteem among Hispanics makes them ever less likely to be able to win presidential elections.
If Republicans follow their true self-interest and propose and pass a comprehensive immigration bill akin to what the Senate achieved more than a year and a half ago, then the immigration political sledgehammer will stop hitting them on the head.
More subtly, the recognition of American Hispanics’ major contributions to America, from history to economic growth and exemplar family values, will be able to be reasserted and then recognized by other Americans. The rancor that sometimes infects conservative politicians and their commentator enablers in the media will start to sound ever more harsh, inappropriate, and eventually unacceptable.
The economic befits of immigration reform have been highly documented elsewhere; what’s missing is the valuation of a change in public perception, one that transitions from a sense of rejection of Latinos to an eventual coming together, the same way that generations of past immigrants melted into American culture. Sushi, anyone?
Let’s not forget that in the lifetime of most politicians running our government today, a vast portion of Americans—African-Americans and Latinos living in the South—were subjected to systemic oppression and denial of their Constitutional rights. Those days are hard to conjure by younger generations brought up in integrated schools, watching media that reinforces American unity in diversity and a general culture of acceptance that has broaden America and its horizons.
As Republicans plan their responses to Obama’s immigration orders, they should be mindful that their actions are deeply influential to not just the viewpoint of Hispanics, but also to millions of other Americans for whom the American values of fairness and equality under law are bedrock principles of the Republic.
In the next few months, as a consequence of whatever actions Republicans take to stop or help President Obama finally resolve our immigration quagmire, the GOP will emerge with a fighting chance to attract Latino voters—or forever lose this critical constituency and with it any chance of continuing as a national party.