Immigration Reform 2013: Jeb Bush Tries to Talk Some Sense Into the GOP

The Wall Street Journal published a detailed op-ed piece by former governor Jeb Bush on the Republican case for immigration reform. The bipartisan bill, which passed through the senate last week, includes a comprehensive path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers, tighter border security and a complete revamp of the legal immigration process.

The legislation includes many measures promoted by George W. Bush and Republican Senator Marco Rubio, so Jeb Bush's support for the overhaul is not surprising.

Because of the GOP's informal "Hastert Rule" the Republicans must have majority support before speaker John Boehner will bring the legislation to a vote. This means that the House will require much more GOP support than the Senate, where less than a third of the party voted in favor of the reform.

Bush's main argument is that America needs this reform economically. "No Republican would vote for legislation that stifled economic growth, promoted illegal immigration, added to the welfare rolls, and failed to ensure a secure border," he wrote. "Yet they essentially will do just that if they fail to pass comprehensive immigration reform — and leave in place a system that does all of those things."

He stresses the need to reduce the number of visas given for family preferences and increase the number given to workers. He references the great number of immigrants who come to American universities to study and then are not allowed to stay after graduation: our own "brain drain." He also gives special attention to the Asian immigrant population, which is largely overlooked in these debates. 

Bush cites pretty compelling economic figures demonstrating working-age immigrants contribute more than they consume to social services and the economy and that the reform would add $1 trillion in recurring tax revenues.

The former Florida governor's main concerns are the reduction of family preferences, the increased number of high-skilled visas, expansion of the guest-worker program, and the creation of a merit-based immigration system. He writes, "Overall the bill satisfies a criterion that is essential to the rule of law: it makes it easier to immigrate legally than illegally."

While Bush's piece includes some fumbles, ("Illegal immigration results now because there are too few lawful low-skill job opportunities for immigrants," apparently?) overall, he makes an argument the Republican representatives in the house and the GOP as a whole should listen to.

According to the Wall Street Journal, only 16% of Republican representatives in the House come from districts where Latinos make up more than 20% of the constituency and only about 12% are expecting to face a serious Democratic opponent.

The GOP representatives in the house seem to think that the immigrant population will vote the Republican Party into oblivion as they consider "11 million undocumented Democrats."

According to USA Today, those 11 million individuals would only translate into perhaps 5 million voters by 2026. "If Republicans can't improve their lot with immigrants by then, the GOP will cease to be competitive in a nation that benefits from having two vibrant parties," wrote their editorial board.

Bush ends his op-ed with the most obvious point House representatives from the GOP need to consider: Immigrants are more likely to hold more conservative views on issues like gay marriage and abortion than the rest of the country. "But for their voice to penetrate the gateway, Republicans need to cease being the obstacle to immigration reform and instead point the way toward the solution," he ends. 

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Kristen Ellingboe

Kristen is currently a journalism and political science student at Emory University.

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