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Anti-Immigrant Wing of GOP Will Remain Ascendant Until Paul Ryan and Pro-Reform Leaders Grow a Backbone

 

Want a fresh reminder why immigration reform legislation has not passed Congress despite broad majority support from the public, including from many Republicans? Witness the past few days, as Donald Trump and the anti-immigrant wing of the GOP continue to put their xenophobic stamp on the party, while facing embarrassingly little resistance from the sizeable pro-reform contingent of Republicans.

Yesterday, the Republican National Convention Platform Committee finalized hardline language on immigration, including calling for a Trump-style border wall, after a successful amendment push by the notorious anti-immigrant zealot and Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach. As Politico’s Kyle Cheney assessed of the immigration platform, “The policy shift is the clearest sign yet of the party’s move toward Trump platform.” The platform language puts the official Republican Party stamp of approval on the explicitly nativist immigration policy vision outlined by Donald Trump – and in the process, further brands the GOP as the Party of Trump.

Yet the unity between the RNC platform and Trump’s immigration vision masks the fact that the Republican Party remains divided on the core immigration question of policy for 11 million undocumented immigrants. While Trump calls for a “Deportation Force” to round up and deport every undocumented immigrant in America within two years, the majority of the party’s primary electorate actually supports legalization instead of mass deportation. In fact, in 18 of the 20 states where Republican primary exit polls asked the question, GOP primary voters supported offering undocumented immigrants “a chance to apply for legal status” instead of deportation by an average margin of 53%-42%. A range of other pollsters, such as PRRI and Pew Research, have consistently found that a strong plurality or slight majority of Republicans back legalization or citizenship over deportation.

So how to account for the disconnect between the Republican electorate’s divide and the dominant, anti-immigrant official stance of the GOP? A major factor is the intensity, commitment, and backbone gap between the leaders and elected officials of the nativist and pro-reform wings. At the national level, the pro-reform contingent of Republicans is led by members such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) – who yesterday gave a one-man clinic on why the pro-reform contingent of the Republican Party continues to lose to the nativist wing of the GOP. During a CNN town hall yesterday, Speaker Ryan said of Donald Trump’s immigration vision:

“I don’t think rounding up 11 million people A) is the right thing to do, B) would work. And I don’t think you’d like to see what we’d have to do to the country to do that … I think you have to secure the border, you have to have reforms that get people out of the shadows and get right with the law and make sure while you are securing the border, you are fixing what’s broken in the legal immigration system. That to me is an approach that makes sense and it won’t require a round-up or mass deportation.”

Yet despite his words rebuking Trump on immigration, Ryan also reiterated his plan to support Trump’s election as president, saying during the town hall, “We have a binary choice. Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton. I pick Donald Trump … On balance, Trump is a far better choice than Clinton, especially when it comes to the list of possible conservative Supreme Court picks that Trump released last month.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “With the notable exception of pro-reform Senators such as Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Republican Party’s pro-immigration leaders refuse to stand up and denounce the nativist wing that is blocking real progress on immigration, hurting the Republican Party’s political future, and taking the country in a divisive and dangerous direction. That Paul Ryan can so easily rationalize supporting Donald Trump is a reminder that immigration reform will continue to be held hostage until more pro-reform leaders show some backbone, stop working to elect Donald Trump, and start ex-communicating the nativists from their midst.”