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The Sorry State Of The GOP Debate On Immigration Reform

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Out of Touch on Policy, Politics and Public Opinion 

During the main debate last night, immigration was one of the top issues.  Here’s our take. 

Here’s what leading Republican candidates had to say about immigration last night:

Donald Trump: “…we need, Jeb, to build a wall, we need to keep illegals out.”

Scott Walker: “Secure the border, enforce the law, no amnesty and go forward with a legal immigration system that gives priority to American families and wages.”

Marco Rubio:  “I also believe we need a fence. The problem is, if El Chapo built a tunnel under the fence, we have to be able to deal with that too.  And that’s why you need an E-Verify system, and you need an entry-exit tracking system and all sorts of other things to prevent illegal immigration.”

Ted Cruz: “There was reference made to our leaders being stupid.  It’s not a question of stupidity.  It’s that they don’t want to enforce the immigration laws. There are far too many of the Washington Cartel that support amnesty.”

John Kasich: “Here’s the thing about Donald Trump.  Donald Trump is hitting a nerve in this country… People are frustrated, they’re fed up, they don’t think the government is working for ‘em.  And for people that want to just tune him out, they’re making a mistake…Mr. Trump is touching a nerve because people want the wall to be built.  They want to see an end to illegal immigration, they want to see it, and we all do.”

Jeb Bush:  “I believe that the great majority of people coming here illegally have no other option, they want to provide for their family.  But we need to control our border…this week, I did come up with a comprehensive strategy…which is that we need to deal with e-verify, we need to deal with people that come with a legal visa and overstay, we need to be much more strategic on how we deal with border enforcement, border security, we need to eliminate  the sanctuary cities in this country, it is ridiculous and tragic that people are dying  – because of the fact that local governments are not following the federal law.”

Here’s what leaders and members of the Latino community had to say:

Jorge Ramos, Univision, on Twitter: “No answer yet from GOP candidates on what would they do with 11M undocumented immigrants” and “So surprised that no candidate criticized Trump’s idea of mass deportations.”

Isabel Montoya, manager of Cleveland restaurant that hosted a watch party for Latinos, in article by M.L. Schultze : “Regarding Trump, whose name she will not utter, she says, ‘As a business person, he’s awesome. I think he’s very smart, very savvy.  But he’s definitely hurt a lot of people and humiliated a lot of immigrants.  We are not all criminals.  We have been working here so hard to make it in this country and to hear something like that, it definitely hurts.’”

Cristina Jimenez, United We Dream, on Twitter: “Candidates at GOP debate say nothing new on immigration. Their stance: I support immigrants BUT… deport, deport, deport.”

Latina conservative from Wisconsinin a piece by Adrian Carrasquillo: “People don’t realize Latino voters and Mexican voters want respect out of the Republican party, that’s what they’re missing.  How can you talk about immigration reform when folks in the party want to see Mexicans leave?”

Here’s what Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, has to say:

“For a Republican Party that has to broaden its appeal to Latino, Asian-American and immigrant voters, last night was a reminder of the power of what we call “the Trump Effect.“  It is painfully obvious that the anti-immigrant tail is still wagging the GOP dog, and so-called Republican leaders are more concerned with appeasing nativists in their base than in winning the presidency.  Not surprisingly, then, the overriding message to immigrants: ‘we don’t like your kind around here.’

Even when a majority of Republican voters are pragmatic about the 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in America, only one candidate – Jeb Bush – deigned to propose a more practical solution.  But even his answer stopped short of calling for a path to citizenship, and it was couched in a blizzard of enforcement rhetoric that makes him, in our view, more of an artful dodger than a forthright leader on the issue.

Until the Republican Party stops pandering to its nativists and starts standing up for comprehensive immigration reform, it will be nearly impossible to re-take the White House.  You would think they would have learned after Mitt Romney’s disastrous 2012 embrace of hard-edged policy positions in the primaries doomed him in the general election.  But they haven’t.

Just yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed what we already knew when he said that immigration reform would not be considered by this Congress.  No wonder anti-immigrant groups are clucking and crowing, the Ann Coulters and Laura Ingrahams are high-fiving, and serious Republicans are shaking their heads in disbelief.

So be it.  The GOP can’t seem to climb out of the hole it keeps digging for itself.  So, it is left to Latino and immigrant voters, and their allies, to once again teach the Republican Party the hard truths of electoral politics.  And maybe one day soon the GOP will actually do what is in the interest of the party and in the interest of the country and pass legislation that is favored by three-quarters of the American people.  Until that day, we may have to resign ourselves to depressing debates, gutless leaders and inflammatory statements that rarely reach beyond labelling immigrants as criminals, making up hollow excuses for inaction, and calling for 14th century walls.”