Immigration Reform 2013: Meet the Republicans Who Have Seen the Light


“People are an asset, they’re not a liability” were the words with which Grover Norquist chose to commence his Immigration Reform Coming Out Party at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing back in April.

Known as the man who launched his political career by founding Americans for Tax Reform and led the right on its anti-tax agenda through the fiscal cliff and sequestration, Norquist is now proposing that conservatives “[get] past this sense [of being] anti-immigrant.”

Norquist’s sentiment is echoed by many Republicans, in particular the very donors who raised the most funds for last year's presidential election. Charlie Spies, the founder of Restore Our Future, the most prominent super PAC behind Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, also happens to the leader of a new super PAC, Republicans for Immigration Reform. Another such group, Partnership for a New American Economy, has seen a great influx of conservative businessmen including independent and GOP members. It is backed by the likes of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, the head of Marriott International hotel company Bill Marriott Jr., and the CEO of Overstock.com Jonathan Johnson, both of whom are Republicans. With a majority of members evidently boasting ties to Wall Street and large businesses, this growing network is putting its money and influence behind what other GOPers dub "amnesty."

This push for immigration reform is happening at a state level too. On September 12, a group of Republican legislators from California gave a press conference calling for immigration reform. State Senator Anthony Canella, a Republican, acknowledged that “this is the same group of Republicans who a few years ago wouldn’t vote for anything that dealt with immigrant rights — driver’s license, DREAM Act.” Essentially, in admitting their flip-flop on these issues, the Republicans made it clear that their old anti-immigration activism was a clearly calculated attempt to pander for votes. 

Similarly, Fox News Latino heavily increased its social media presence since its inception, climbing from an average of one Facebook post every five days at the end of 2011 to what is now at least three Facebook posts a day. Despite Fox News chief Roger Ailes dismissing accusations that Fox News Latino is softer on the Hispanic population than Fox News is, this is evidently not the case. Sean Hannity also drastically changed his rhetoric on immigration following Obama’s re-election in November, claiming it is a position he has “evolved on.”

Compared to the many Republican politicians and media figures who pulled a fast one when they saw the demographic tides changing, Norquist’s and Republican business leaders’ immigration activism seems unexpectedly genuine. As early as 2010, Norquist demonstrated his pro-immigration stance while toeing the line on traditional GOP values.

However, it is no coincidence that Norquist and well-off GOP businessmen share two central tenets in their political agenda — one, preventing tax increases, and two, giving immigrants a path to citizenship. 

At the same time that Ailes called the Hispanic community a “tremendous business opportunity,” a member of Republicans for Immigration Reform explained his reasons for being pro-immigration: “Immigrants are an important part of this economy and they're an important part of my business.”

As such, it should come as no surprise that business-minded Republicans, usually strong advocates of low taxes, are now the spokespeople for creating a path to citizenship. For big business owners, what is not to like about an increased supply of labor, driving competition in the job market up and wages down?

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Yingyue Han

Previously published by The Diplomat and having won an award from Foreign Affairs, Ying is a journalist by hobby. As an MA Politics graduate from University of Edinburgh and a current Master in Finance student at IE Business School, she primarily writes about politics and finance. She is specifically keen on public policy, having previously interned at both the U.S. and Singapore governments. Aside from that, you will find her dabbling in the startup/tech sphere and occasionally commenting on TCK culture based on her 19 years of experience living in 7 countries.

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