Ali Noorani: A Welcome Change in Angry GOP Rhetoric Over Immigration

The anti-immigrant anchor around the ankles of the GOP is now trying to attach itself to their fastest rising star: Senator Marco Rubio.

Senator Rubio is allegedly developing narrow legislation that would help address the immigration situation of some undocumented youth whom the DREAM Act would benefit. Details of what this limited proposal would look like are sparse but since floating the concept of something other than the current “self-deport” GOP immigration position, Senator Rubio has been attacked by the full range of immigration restrictionists.

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In fact, former Representative Tom Tancredo, notorious for proposing legislation calling for an end to all immigration in the United States, has resurfaced as the immigration extremist America wishes would quietly recede into the background. Tragically, the immigration status quo Tancredo so dearly loves has done nothing to move America forward.

Existing immigration policies have cost our economy billions, separated millions of families and undermined our economic competitiveness. Now Tancredo is attacking Republicans who are trying to stay above the political fray and forge a new consensus on immigrants and America.

While it is impossible to pass judgment on a piece of legislation that has yet to see the light of day, it is good to see Senate Republicans work to tone down their party’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The chatter about potential Republican legislation serving the needs and interests of undocumented youth is a welcome change to an ugly debate where pandering and paranoia are the common currency of most conservative politicians.

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But, to be clear, the parameters that have been outlined in various press accounts make it obvious this is not the historically bipartisan DREAM Act. The legislation Senator Richard Durbin has long championed with Democrats and Republicans at his side from day one, committed to the legalization, service and citizenship of undocumented youth, is, in our opinion, the only DREAM Act.

As Senator Rubio and other Republicans have realized, “self-deportation” is not a vote-getter for candidates who sorely need Latino voters. Like most Americans, Latinos care about access to good jobs, a good education and quality health care. But immigration still matters a lot to Latino voters on a personal level because it provides a window into a candidate’s respect for their families and their community.

Indeed, no one is going to listen to your economic message if you want to deport their mother.

The measure of Republican success on immigration proposals will be twofold: Will the legislation they propose keep families together, allow a significant number of undocumented youth to serve in the armed forces or attain higher education, and keep the door open for them to become Americans? And, will the legislation garner support from across the Republican caucus — particularly the House Republican leadership — or merely expose deep divides on immigration within the party?

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Clearly the conversation about how to address the situation of undocumented youth has struck a chord among all those who care about fixing our nation’s immigration system.  If Republicans are serious about a solution for ambitious young immigrants, they need to move from interviews and press statements to legislative language.

America can ill afford election-year shenanigans from either party when it comes to our broken immigration system. Latino and immigrant voters will see through any political ploy to win their vote without doing the hard work to deliver solutions.

Ali Noorani is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.

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