In advance of tomorrow’s GOP debate in Mesa, Arizona, an editorial in the New York Times today captures how the Republican candidates for President have lurched far to the right on immigration.
As the New York Times puts it, the current crop of Republican “candidates have abandoned decades of Republican moderation on immigration, disowning views once held by Ronald Reagan, both Presidents Bush and Congressional Republicans — like Mel Martinez, Sam Brownback, Lindsey Graham and John McCain — who once led a sizable coalition for bipartisan reform but have since either left the Senate or their principles behind.”
Don’t be surprised if the pandering to the nativists in the Republican Party gets even worse in tomorrow’s Arizona debate. While candidates are likely to tout their support for Arizona’s extreme anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, it is worth noting that an independent statewide poll conducted in November 2011 found that 78% of the state’s citizens, including 69% of Republicans, support a path to citizenship for immigrants.
The full editorial titled, “Immigration and the Campaign,” follows below:
The Republican presidential candidates have not made immigration a focus of their campaigns. But, as they head toward a debate on Wednesday in Arizona, ground zero for anti-immigrant hostility, it is a good time to ask them hard questions about immigration. The odds are bad that they will have sensible answers.
These candidates have abandoned decades of Republican moderation on immigration, disowning views once held by Ronald Reagan, both Presidents Bush and Congressional Republicans — like Mel Martinez, Sam Brownback, Lindsey Graham and John McCain — who once led a sizable coalition for bipartisan reform but have since either left the Senate or their principles behind.
Mitt Romney has moved farthest to the fringe. His scheme for fixing immigration is mass expulsion: a fantasy of ridding the country of 11 million unauthorized immigrants by making their lives unbearable. The key to his harsh vision is “self-deportation,” the deceptively bland-sounding policy that he introduced at a debate. It accepts that arresting and expelling so many millions would be impossible — like deporting the State of Ohio. But it replaces that delusion with another: That people can be made miserable enough to leave on their own.
Mr. Romney lifted this scheme from a campaign adviser, Kris Kobach, the mastermind of a host of crackdowns that seek to leave unauthorized immigrants not just unable to work, but unable to drive, rent or heat a home, afraid to take children to school or the doctor. In states where “self-deportation” is official policy, the results have been deplorable. In Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County sweeps neighborhoods making mass arrests, and people are afraid to leave home. In Alabama, farm and construction workers have fled by the thousands; tornado victims are afraid to go to a shelter.
These laws hijack the federal government’s responsibility for immigration and have caused a civil-rights emergency. But Mr. Romney’s response has been to condemn the Obama Justice Department for fighting them in court.
Newt Gingrich is slightly less extreme than Mr. Romney. He rightly scoffs that “self-deportation” is a pandering fantasy, and he supports legalizing a few grandmothers and students who join the military, though, like Mr. Romney, he would deny them any chance to become Americans. He, too, staunchly defends rogue states against federal civil-rights enforcement. And, speaking of fantasies, Mr. Gingrich has pledged to complete a double-wall border fence by the end of next year.
Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have been less explicit in their immigration prescriptions, though Mr. Paul has voiced a libertarian’s doubts about a border fence and acknowledged that Hispanics are being made “scapegoats.” He and Mr. Santorum, like the others, support an immediate border lockdown, oppose the Dream Act and want the government to enforce English as an official language.
Poll after poll has shown that the American public supports moderate reform. Many conservatives do, too. In Utah, the Mormon Church has joined a broad coalition of business, civic and religious organizations in endorsing humane immigration measures, free of shrill hostility. In Kansas, Mr. Kobach’s home state, businesses are trying to draft a plan to be more welcoming to immigrant workers. But the Republican presidential hopefuls are busy pandering to the far-right voters that dominate the primaries.
President Obama has hardly been inspiring on this issue. He has pushed deportations to record levels while failing to reform immigration more humanely. But he, at least, understands that the right immigration solution is one that doesn’t reward illegality but channels immigrant energy and aspirations to fruitful ends. It is the hard-won compromise that combines tougher border and workplace controls with a legalization path and a well-designed future flow of workers to meet our economy’s needs.
That’s a plan that Mitt Romney, a few Mitt Romneys ago, once admired. It’s the one he deplores now.