The Free Press, Mankato, MN


May 9, 2013

Immigration missteps could hurt GOP

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee begins its work on the immigration law overhaul composed by a bipartisan group of eight senators.

The real debate, however, will be within the Republican Party, which appears to be torn.The party’s pragmatic wing wants an immigration bill not only to satisify business leaders’ desires but also to enhance the party’s political appeal to Hispanics. A more rigid faction echoes past arguments against revising the system to allow those already in the country illegally to gain legal status.

Earlier this week the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank headed by former Sen. Jim DeMint — a leader of that second faction — put out an analysis claiming the so-called “Gang of Eight” bill would cost the government an additional $6.3 trillion, a claim immediately derided by Republicans in the pragmatic wing as overly simplistic.

Few if any Democrats are likely to oppose the bill; it may not be all Democrats want, but it works for them. With the Democrats in the Senate majority, and with some Republican votes to be had, it can pass the Senate.

The House is another matter. There the Republicans are in the majority, and the electoral mechanics of gerrymandered districts provides incentive for many in the party to take a hard line on a variety of issues.

Whatever the legislation’s failings as policy — and we’re inclined to side with the critics of the Heritage document — it seems self-destructive for Republicans to take such an adamant stand against immigration reform and a path to citizenship. With or without the overhaul, the nation’s demographics are changing.

Some in the party will remember that California was once a rather secure state for Republicans. Then came an anti-immigration ballot measure supported by the then-governor, a Republican, and the party lost the Hispanic vote. Some 20 years later, California is a majority-minority state, and the Republican party has become almost irrelevant there.

The Golden State is often viewed as a harbinger for the rest of the nation. If enough House Republicans in secure GOP districts chose to block this legislation, they may lock the party into a long-term secondary status in presidential politics.

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