Republicans have plenty of reason to be weary of immigration reform. In 1986 President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which granted amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States on the condition that they came forward, admitted guilt, and paid back taxes.
It also made it illegal for employers to knowingly hire an undocumented worker and increased border enforcement. However, since the act’s passage, the undocumented immigrant population has increased to approximately 11 million. Promises for strengthened border security have clearly failed to produce results. Furthermore, the simple principle of providing the protections of citizenship to people that arrived in the country illegally is enough for the GOP to keep its hard lined stance on immigration reform.
This year presents a unique opportunity for the Republican Party to redefine itself with regards to immigration. For starters, having House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) endorse birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants is a positive step forward.
At the American Enterprise Institute Cantor stated, “A good place to start is with the kids. One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.”
The policy of self-deportation endorsed by Romney showed a fundamental neglect of the issue at hand. Rather than proposing a solution, Romney preferred the status quo in which undocumented workers could return to their homelands if they desire. With reformers like Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) leading the charge, the GOP can rebrand itself as a more inclusive party. In his feature article in TIME Magzine this week Rubio showed he understands the complexities of the issue: “It equates to these kids who were brought here when they were 5 or 6 and have no memory of the country where they were born. America is a compassionate country that says, ‘Let’s help these folks.’ But you have to do it in a way that doesn’t encourage people to bring their kids in the future, so they can get the same benefit. It’s complicated.”
As a son of legal immigrants myself, I absolutely think it is unfair that undocumented immigrants could get priority over those trying to immigrate to the United States legally, like my parents did coming from India many years ago. For the longest time, I shared conventional GOP positions against providing undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship on the principle of following the law and going through the same procedures as every other foreigner trying to come to America. However, when confronted with the reality of 11 million undocumented immigrants, I eventually realized that simply ignoring them on principle is not a practical solution.
This is the same change of heart that the Republican Party is experiencing now. The GOP is no longer unequivocally dismissing any proposals to legally integrate undocumented immigrants into the American workforce on principle alone. The practicality of the matter is forcing Republicans to move forward with reform. It is unfair to legal immigrants and it could encourage more illegal immigration, but Republicans are recognizing that a pathway to citizenship is the only way to resolve this issue.