Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: The RNC on Immigration Reform

shutterstock_134657252The Republican National Committee took two steps forward last week when they passed a resolution calling on Congress to get immigration reform done by year’s end, but took one step back by suggesting Congress offer legal status, but no path to citizenship for the currently undocumented population. This was followed by statements from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee this week, who declared that he does not support a path to citizenship for DREAMers, and no immediate status for their parents. This illustrates just how much further the party has to go before it is in sync with a growing number of its own members—several of whom have just begun to declare their support for a path to citizenship —and the vast majority of the public, who support immigration reform and full citizenship for the undocumented.

On the one hand, the RNC’s new resolution signals a rejection of the worst sentiments of the Republican Party’s 2012 platform. That platform advocated for self-deportation and an indefinite continuation of the get-tough, enforcement-only response to undocumented immigration—which has been employed at enormous expense without success for decades. On the other hand, the resolution could subject undocumented immigrants to a permanent form of second-class status, supporting a legal status for young people with no path to citizenship and no protection for other undocumented people, including the parents of the young people they are purportedly trying to help.

This contradiction bespeaks a party that has reached a crossroads where its top leaders are pushing for change yet still struggle with what exactly change looks like. The Republican Party is coming to understand that it can either revamp itself to match the changing demographic and economic realities of the 21st century, or it can run headlong into the past—and eventual extinction. Fortunately, the anti-immigrant mantra of the party’s 2012 platform is crumbling and they are slowly returning to the pro-reform immigration policies advocated by former President George W. Bush.

Notably, this resolution follows a 2013 self-study initiated by RNC Chair, Reince Priebus, which concluded that immigration reform is not only economically sound, but also demographically essential if Republicans are to remain a national party. Specifically, the study says, “among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”

The compatibility between immigration reform and many of the Republican Party’s economic goals, like reducing the federal deficit, growing the economy, creating new jobs and supporting small businesses, are hard to deny.

There is no doubt party leaders read the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate showing that the immigration reform bill  the Senate passed in June (S. 744) would reduce the federal deficit by roughly $1 trillion over 20 years and would boost the U.S. economy as a whole without negatively affecting U.S. workers in the long run. In addition, an April report from the conservative American Action Forum, authored by former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, went further, estimating that immigration reform has the potential to decrease the cumulative federal deficit by more than $2.5 trillion over the course of just 10 years.

Republicans who favor real immigration reform that includes a workable strategy for dealing with all undocumented immigrants are in essence doing more than just winning votes and expanding the appeal of the party—they are thinking about the long-term economic future of the United States.

All eyes will be on the Republicans this fall as the immigration reform bill’s fate sits in their hands. The fundamental reality, which they must come to terms with if they are to remain relevant in the lives of most voters, is that immigration is not an enemy invasion; it’s an economic and social resource. Another fact they must also face up to is that how Congress legislates a solution for nearly 11 million people already living and contributing to the economic and social fabric our country will make history. They need to think long and hard about what kind of legacy they want to leave behind on immigration. Now is not the time to go halfway. It’s finally time to reform the system, fully, meaningfully and comprehensively.

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