Viewpoints

GOP steps into the immigration trap

Sean Reyes, right, Utah’s’ attorney general, speaks as a panel designated as “rising stars” listens at the Republican National Committee meetings Thursday in San Diego. From left, the panel consists of Anitere Flores, Hadley Heath, moderator and Republican co-chairwoman Sharon Day, Conrad James and Reyes.
Sean Reyes, right, Utah’s’ attorney general, speaks as a panel designated as “rising stars” listens at the Republican National Committee meetings Thursday in San Diego. From left, the panel consists of Anitere Flores, Hadley Heath, moderator and Republican co-chairwoman Sharon Day, Conrad James and Reyes. The Associated Press

The Republican National Committee descended last week on Coronado, southwest of San Diego, for its winter meeting.

Some members didn’t seem all that aware of their surroundings.

The attendees, who suddenly found themselves about 10 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, competed with one another over who was the most opposed to illegal immigration.

I know elephants don’t forget, but do they think? These people were in California where, last year, researchers at the University of Southern California found that nearly one in 10 workers is undocumented and that illegal immigrants contribute more than $130 billion annually to the state economy.

At meetings like this, Republicans’ attitude toward immigrants can be summed up this way: “Stop the invasion – but don’t deport anyone until my room is cleaned.” The rhetoric of many attendees was predictably tone-deaf, according to two Latino Republicans who were at the event.

Most Republicans aren’t really immigration hard-liners. They just play this role in front of television cameras. The party is beholden to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is in turn beholden to its members – hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, many of which would have to shutter their doors if not for the availability of illegal immigrant labor.

It’s this pro-business faction of the GOP, and its influence over Senate Republicans, that will save the day. Expect the grown-ups in the upper chamber to derail a largely symbolic attempt by their House colleagues to undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. Republicans voted to cut the purse strings and deny the administration the funding it needs to carry out its executive action.

Democrats won’t be riding to the rescue. Most of them don’t really care what happens to illegal immigrants. They just play this role in front of television cameras. Democrats are loyal to organized labor, which resents illegal immigrants for making union members work harder. Besides, it’s too entertaining for Democrats to watch Republicans set themselves on fire, and further alienate Latino voters.

Here’s some 2016 election night math. Only five states could be up for grabs in the race for president – and in a position to decide the outcome: Nevada, Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Virginia. Three of the five – Nevada, Florida and Colorado – have substantial Latino populations. You tick off Latinos, and you’ll never make it to the Oval Office.

Not that what President Barack Obama has proposed is all that great. It’s not. First, it’s not an executive order, which would have the force of law; it’s merely a series of executive changes in policy that can be rescinded at any time by this White House or the next. Also, of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, only about 2 million to 3 million are likely to benefit from the relief. Next, once an individual is granted deferred action, it lasts only for three years, after which that person would go back into the deportation queue, having given the government their home address. Finally, let’s remember that all this is supposed to spare illegal immigrants from being deported by the same administration offering the lifeline.

Most of what the White House is proposing in terms of deportation relief could have been done quietly and discreetly. But then the Democrats wouldn’t have been able to lay such an effective trap for Republicans.

Now the trap is sprung. After the vote by House Republicans to essentially kill the administration’s deferred action, I jotted down a list of what Republicans do wrong every time the topic of immigration comes up – mistakes that several of those who seek the 2016 GOP presidential nomination are likely to make in the months to come.

They set out to attack illegal immigration, but they wind up attacking the immigrants themselves – desperate human beings who are trying to feed their families and make the best of a bad situation. They look for easy answers to what is a complicated issue. They never attack the root of the problem because they want to protect employers who contribute to their campaigns. They come off as anti-Latino when, as Obama noted recently, they pander to nativists – or play dumb when other Republicans do. They tear down everyone else’s ideas, without offering their own. And …

It was right about then I realized that I was going to need more paper.

Contact Ruben Navarrette at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

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