The power of immigration reform WITH a path to citizenship is on full display this week, continuing to hammer down Jeb Bush days after his book revealed that he no longer believed a path was necessary. Instead of using his position to bring Republicans into the immigration debate, as he’d hoped, Bush is now struggling to get with the program and the new consensus on citizenship. As the Executive Director here at America’s Voice, Frank Sharry, said yesterday, “For the longest time, Jeb was waiting for many in the Republican Party to catch up to him. Now it’s time for Jeb to catch up to many of them.”
Bush’s fumbles have resulted in the Senate Gang of 8 reaffirming their support for citizenship, and explaining more clearly than ever why creating a pathway is crucial for the immigration reform debate. And it’s had the very odd consequence of leading anti-immigration reform spokesmen to explain why immigration reform without citizenship is a terrible idea.
At National Review, Mark Krikorian, of the restrictionist “think tank” Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), wrote that if Congress passes immigration reform without a pathway to citizenship, “the GOP candidate in 2016 will look back fondly on Romney’s 27 percent of the Hispanic vote — and he’ll have sabotaged his own base as well.”
In the Daily Caller, Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (or FAIR, also considered to be a hate group), said that “Bush’s proposal would just disadvantage Republicans in the 2014 and 2016 elections.” Why would Republicans think that immigration reform without citizenship will win them Hispanic votes, he wondered, when no citizenship is the equivalent of “half a loaf”?
[Immigration reform without citizenship] would leave the GOP open to charges that it supports a very unpopular two-tier “Jim Crow” legal system, said Camarota, whose center wants immigration law to be reformed to halve the inflow of roughly 1 million immigrants per year.
That provision would give the Democrats a powerful club for the 2014 and 2016 elections, and would quickly be killed when GOP legislators realized the unpopularity of the idea, he said…
Worse, by calling for an economy where many immigrant workers lack political rights, Bush’s proposal “is antithetical to our value system,” he said. If enacted, “the Democrats would become the party of equality, and the Republicans would become the party of second-class citizens,” he said.
Krikorian, Mehlman, Camarota, et al, of course are trying to swing for the “nothing” part in the all-or-nothing immigration reform stakes. They’re afraid that Bush, in cleaving citizenship from immigration reform, is opening up a space for more Republicans to support reform without giving 11 million immigrants the vote. They are so against immigration reform, whether legislation includes citizenship or not, that they are spending their time making the case for citizenship in an attempt to explain to Republicans why the GOP cannot accept legalization without citizenship as a middle-ground option. But in doing so, these representatives of some of the largest anti-immigrant, John Tanton network organizations are making better arguments for why citizenship is crucial than many pro-reform Republicans.
Their message should resonate with Republicans (like Jeb Bush and Raul Labrador and Bob Goodlatte) flirting with the idea of passing immigration reform without citizenship. As a new Latino Decisions poll released yesterday reveals, on one side of the debate stands a growing demographic—the Latino vote—that is politically engaged and more invested in immigration reform with a path to citizenship than ever. On the other side stands opponents of immigration reform, like Krikorian, Mehlman, Camarota, and their dwindling numbers of Tea Party supporters. The third side represents immigration reform with legalization but no citizenship—and here there are literally no constituents. Americans don’t think it’s a good idea, it’s—as Camarota said—antithetical to our value system, and it would be a mistake for Congress to even think about forcing 11 million aspiring Americans into a permanent second-class status.