The Republican Immigration Dilemma

For the past year and a half or so, Republicans have been trying to use Immigration Reform as a rallying issue for the party. Similar to gay marriage in 2004, many Republican leaders viewed the issue as a key part of their electoral strategy in 2006.

Of course, we all know how well the 2006 election worked out for Republicans.

Nonetheless, they are maintaining the drumbeat that illegal immigration is one of the country's greatest threats and are bickering among themselves in a manner that makes the Democratic party look organized over President Bush's support for the proposed compromise Immigration Reform bill negotiated by Senator Jon Kyl (R) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D).

Just take a look at the "warm" reception Senator Lamar Alexander received at a recent town meeting in the "Hub City of the Cumberlands", Cookeville, Tennessee. Even some of the President's staunchest supporters are abandoning him and attacking him for his stance.

Rather than being an issue that rallies the Republican party and its various groups together for electoral victory, I would argue that immigration reform actually splits the party.

Just because voters are identifying the issue as a priority, doesn't mean that there is consensus for what to do about the (supposed) problem. This makes it very difficult to use immigration as the rallying issue for the Republican Party.

Just look at a few of the Republican/conservatives traditional constituent groups and how the issue is viewed differently by each...
  • Many "Chamber of Commerce Republicans" are basically satisfied with the status quo because they rely on illegal immigrants to avoid paying minimum wage.

  • Many "Libertarian Republicans" think government should stay out of it altogether and rejects additional regulations.

  • Many "Protectionist Republicans" want to close the borders altogether.

  • Many "Religious Republicans" feel it’s a moral issue that harshly impacts women and children, and that people be free to escape persecution and pursue their lives in the land of opportunity.

  • Many "Deficit Hawk Republicans" point to the cost of social programs for immigrants. (Others point out that withholding taxes are paid by illegals, but never returned because immigrants don’t file tax returns or collect social security.)

  • Many "Law and Order Republicans" (not necessarily Fred Thompson) see the issue as immigrants somehow flaunting the law and reject any compromise short of imprisonment or deportation.

  • Many "Don't Worry We'll Protect You (War on Terror) Republicans" see the issue as a harsh reminder that we have talked a lot, but we actually haven't done much to improve border security since 9/11.
As you can see, there is hardly consensus on one approach to "the problem". Each group defines the problem differently, which combines to make it extremely difficult to rally voters behind one specific bumper sticker solution.

There’s broad agreement (among Republicans) that immigration is a problem, but not what to do about it.

As a result, support for various proposed solutions will vary depending on what is proposed, and it will be fairly easy for critics of each approach to build opposition to kill a particular proposal.

If Fred Thompson proposes a “get tough” no amnesty approach, he may have the support of folks in Middle Tennessee, but the Chamber of Commerce is not likely to be pleased.

Similarly, the current compromise that the President supports is met with opposition by others.

Personally, I am pleased to see the Republicans bickering amongst themselves over the issue, while Democrats focus on offering sensible solutions and addressing issues such as the war, health care, and good jobs, which are much higher priorities for most Americans.

That approach may not play very well on talk radio, but it will help Democrats in their quest for the White House and help ensure a brighter future for the United States for ALL of us -- those who are fortunate enough to be born here, as well as those who choose to move here too.

(Note, this post began as a comment to a post on Don Surber's blog, but I thought it warranted its own post here.)