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This week, news reports indicated that a group of Republicans may propose a resolution to the Republican National Committee that would impose a litmus test on candidates seeking party support. Entitled “Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates,” the ten question test includes such conservative standards as requiring support for smaller government and lower taxes.
But the immigration plank raises an interesting, if inconvenient, question for the resolution’s authors: would Ronald Reagan have passed this litmus test? According to the resolution, real Republicans support “legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants.”
When President Reagan signed the 1986 immigration bill into law, he said: “The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.” That’s right, given the far right’s obsession with “amnesty” – defined by them as anything short of mass deportation – Ronald Reagan himself could not have met the principles being promoted in his name.
In his farewell address to the nation, President Reagan referred back to his vision for America as a “shining city upon a hill.” He said:
I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.
Contrast that with the rantings of Congressman Steve King (R-IA), the top-ranking Republican on the House Immigration Subcommittee, who famously offered his vision for how to treat immigrants who show up at the gates of this shining city upon a hill. King’s vision is that of an fence built with special wire:
“We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time.”
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: “President Reagan’s welcoming and sunny brand of conservatism is at odds with the nativist impulses on display in some current Republican circles. Republican Party leaders should ask themselves if they want to live in an America closer to Ronald Reagan’s vision or Steve King’s?”
“President Reagan understood the value of new immigrants to our nation and the civic and political dangers of anti-immigrant sentiments,” he continued. “As the Republican National Committee debates whether to create a new Reagan litmus test for candidates, we kindly suggest that the committee pay attention to the true Reagan legacy on immigration, and understand that his optimistic vision of our nation as a welcoming place for newcomers still resounds today.”
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