When my father, Henry Nehring, became an American citizen in 1967, he joined the Republican Party. For him, it was an easy decision. He came to America in search of freedom and opportunity. Like many other immigrants he saw the GOP as the most committed to the principles that brought him here and that made America distinct from the “old country.”
To earn the support of California’s immigrant communities, the Republican Party must now reassert its position as, first and foremost, the party of freedom and opportunity.
As the son of immigrants, I have a special reason for believing that immigration is a positive force for America. That includes immigration from countries to our south.
People want to come here because the promise of our nation is opportunity, prosperity and personal security. By contrast, no one seems very interested in moving to Venezuela, Cuba or North Korea.
Most immigrants from Mexico and Central America come here to escape poverty, lack of opportunity and, often, violence and lawlessness – not to get on the public dole. It is human nature to look for ways to escape despair, whether it was people fleeing Eastern Europe during the Cold War, or those looking for a better life from elsewhere in our hemisphere.
Republican focus on restoring order to our borders is the right policy, but at times it’s come at the expense of treating immigration solely as a law enforcement issue, and it fails to articulate our own forward-looking steps to improve America’s immigration system. To restore the Republican Party as the first choice for immigrants, we must set out what we’re for, not just what we’re against.
California is one of only four states sharing a border with Mexico, and it’s in the interests of the U.S. and Mexico and the Central American countries that our border be safe and secure. As long as this is not so, it will victimize people on both sides of the border with human trafficking, drug trafficking and violence. Further, the most heavily traveled border crossing in the world is where San Diego meets Tijuana. The waiting times seem endless. A modern border means one where crossings are efficient, secure, and meet today’s economic realities for the movement of goods and people.
Immigration is also about meeting economic realities. For example, we should restore a guest worker program for agriculture. Ronald Reagan supported it. So do I. Shutting down the Bracero program in 1964 didn’t stop people from illegally entering the country. It stopped many from going home, and disrupted the lives of many Mexican families and American farmers alike. The Bracero program worked for more than 20 years. We should develop a 21st century version.
Arbitrary limits on visas for high-tech workers should be raised to match economic realities, recognizing the benefits of having technology companies expand here rather than being forced to expand overseas in search of workers.
Let us liberalize laws that currently require foreign students who obtain advanced degrees at U.S. universities to leave, thus putting their talent to use in foreign countries rather than here. Serving with honor in the U.S. military should make sense for many young immigrants to become citizens.
We want immigrants to not just become Americans, but also to succeed here. That means becoming proficient in English, and having schools with good teachers. California’s teacher tenure laws have just been struck down by a judge because of the difficulty they created in getting bad teachers out of the classroom and replacing them with good ones, with minority communities often having suffered the most.
Finally, reform must be a two-way street. As Mexico and the countries of Central America work to produce growth and opportunity at home, the U.S. should support those processes through trade opportunities and technical support.
The Republican Party has promoted the freedom and opportunity that led so many people to come to here. Our party should be the natural home for these immigrants. By leading on these issues, we can be. As a result, the United States will be an even more prosperous nation.
Ron Nehring, immediate past chairman of the California Republican Party, is the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor.