Immigration Reform 2013: As the Country Changes, So Do Republicans

Immigration reform is sweeping through Washington, D.C. and making quite a splash in the media as well. The time is ripe to overhaul the nation’s immigration policy and start substantively addressing the roughly 12 million immigrants in the United States illegally. You might ask yourself, “Why is this only gaining traction now? Hasn’t this been an issued worth addressing for years?” While the answer is “yes,” the difference this time lies with the substance of the legislation and the parties involved in its creation. Namely, Republicans have led the charge of the so-called Gang of Eight in this immigration overhaul.

Republicans have notoriously been opposed to any form of what they reference as “amnesty.” This is essentially allowing all of those who are in the country illegally to simply stay and become legal citizens, by virtue of the exorbitant number of illegal immigrants that are currently here. And once again, several opponents of the Gang of Eight-led reform package claim this is the newest form of amnesty.

However, we are witnessing a changing tide in party politics for Republicans due to the presence of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on the Gang of Eight. This change is not an easy one, but it is happening slowly with a select few bold Republicans leading this charge and party loyals soon to follow.

In the presidential campaign not even a year ago, Republican candidate Mitt Romney was touting the traditional Republican stance on immigration reform: absolutely no amnesty. That rhetoric has been adopted and repeated by most Republicans for the past several years, and it's one of the reasons Romney and the Republicans lost the general election in November.

Therefore, we are seeing a very quick shift on this issue. With the Gang of Eight working secretly for the past several months to advance a comprehensive, massive compromise, things are changing for Republicans. This could be in part due to the party's 2012 losses but it could also be due to changes in party makeup. From issues such as same-sex marriage to immigration reform, current Republicans are not the same as the Republicans of the 1980s. This is a healthy aspect of all electoral and legislative politics. One of the most commonly cited examples of this phenomenon is when Democrats claim that if President Lincoln were operating in today’s political landscape, he would likely be a Democrat. While Republicans would dispute this heavily, it underscores the reality of shifting party identification.

Regardless of clashing views on immigration reform in 2013, one thing remains clear – after the wake-up call Republicans received in the 2012 elections, Republicans are changing as quickly as the demographic and cultural landscape of the United States as a whole.

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Philip Waggoner

Doctoral student in political science, studying at the University of Houston.

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