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USA Today Editorializes: “Immigration Rhetoric Disconnected from Reality”

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The Republican presidential debates have certainly generated a conversation about immigration reform. However, within Republican circles, that conversation has gotten ugly and divisive. Meanwhile, Rep. Lamar Smith is trying to pass E-Verify, which would lead to the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants — and wreak havoc on our economy. As an editorial in USA Today makes clear, these GOP leaders have the wrong strategy:

To hear rivals savage Perry for defending in-state college tuition for undocumented students is especially disappointing. Perry’s position is, of course, politically savvy in a state with many Hispanic voters, but it also stands on its merits: Virtually none of the students had any say in their parents’ decision to bring them to the United States. They are bright enough and ambitious enough to qualify for college — exactly the kind of immigrants the nation prizes. Texas, and the nation, are better off if they’re educated and productive members of society. A dozen states have already recognized this, but the federal DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act — has been stalled in Washington by anti-immigrant sentiment.

In fact, the crackdown on illegal immigration is already producing unintended consequences. States such as Alabama and Georgia that have passed tough anti-immigrant laws are finding that businesses are suddenly desperate for the labor that undocumented workers used to supply. Hard-liners such as Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, are now calling for a broad new guest worker program to provide enough labor to allow farmers to harvest their crops.

That’s sensible — but only as part of a comprehensive reform that also includes border security, workplace enforcement and a path to legality for undocumented immigrants who have lived, worked and paid their taxes in this country for years. Such a measure nearly passed Congress in 2007 with strong support from President Bush, Perry’s predecessor as Texas governor. Something about serving in Austin must give Republicans a dose of pragmatism and compassion — the antidote to others who needlessly insist on being caustic and harsh.

As we’ve noted repeatedly, Governor Perry is no moderate on immigration. Far from it. He doesn’t support the kind of comprehensive immigration reform, outlined above, which was endorsed by President George W. Bush. And, he opposes the federal DREAM Act. But, his opponents, led by Mitt Romney, appear intent on following Rep. Lamar Smith’s strategy of driving a permanent political wedge between the Republicans and Latino voters. They don’t want to create solutions. They’re intent on creating divisions.