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What Would Ronald Reagan say?

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Please note the following column was translated from Spanish to English and is available for reprint as long as the author is given proper credit. This column is available online in Spanish here.

I don’t like to repeat titles or previous columns, but with the second Republican debate this week at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, I return to wondering what the icon of the Republican Party would say about the sad spectacle his party is making in this election cycle, particularly in regards to the offensive and even racist tone taken by several of the candidates.

I also wonder what the positive Reagan would say of the displays of negativism, depression and chaos that the vast majority of those candidates preach. These have been difficult years on several fronts, both economic and in regards to foreign policy, but the economy is rebounding and unemployment rates have declined, albeit not at the levels that one would like to see across all sectors.

But the bulk of the fifteen Republican candidates have now chosen to paint a depressing picture and have sought scapegoats to appease the rage of an ultraconservative sector who still haven’t recovered from the fact that an African American, Barack Obama, won the presidency not just once but twice, and that this nation is no longer a Norman Rockwell print and changing demographics have reached even the most remote parts of our country.

I imagine that the favorite of the Republican gang, Donald Trump, who has led the symphony of insults and humiliation and is rising in public favor, will take advantage of the debate on Wednesday, September 16, which incidentally coincides with the independence of Mexico, to exalt the figure of Reagan.

Six years ago, I wrote a column on the same subject but with other characters, and of course, I never imagined that one the eve of the 2016 presidential election we would still be hearing the same arguments against comprehensive immigration reform and that the same attacks on the same scapegoats, the undocumented, would become increasingly vicious.

Reagan was a controversial figure. His tax reductions and cuts to several programs deepened income inequality.

But there is no doubt that he is also an admired figure among many Latinos for enacting on November 6, 1986 a true amnesty that initially benefited some 3 million undocumented immigrants. Sanctions against unscrupulous employers who knowingly hired undocumented workers were not applied correctly and some critics have said they didn’t go far enough. The reality is that there were about 3 million undocumented immigrants in 1986 and there are now about 11 million, and President Barack Obama has deported nearly 2.5 million of them. And the truth remains that undocumented labor is needed in various industries that keep this country afloat, such as agriculture to name one of the most important, and employers are making use of it to fill jobs that many in this country simply won’t do.  With their work they contribute to the economy at many levels, with billions of dollars.

The National Immigration Forum Action Fund launched a TV ad contrasting Reagan’s immigration tenets with what the Republican candidates are now saying.  

So I ask again, what would Reagan say of the “gems” that emanate from the mouths of many of the Republican candidates when they talk about immigrants?

At the very least, I know what he said as a conservative president who issued an amnesty for undocumented immigrants with a Republican Senate and a Democratic House, demonstrating pragmatism and positivism to address the issue.

In enacting the measure, Reagan said that “our objective is only to establish a reasonable, fair, orderly and secure system of immigration into this country and not to discriminate in any way against particular nations or people.”

He  added: “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.”

This is also the Reagan who, leaving the presidency in 1989, explained his vision of a shining city “with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace… And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

I repeat the same conclusion as six years ago: What a contrast to the nativists and anti-immigrants who have hijacked the Republican Party.

Maribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor at America’s Voice.