In a word, too many illegal aliens are recent arrivals and would not benefit from this scheme. Too many thousands are on public assistance. And too many thousands have criminal records. That these latter groups are, of course, a minority amid a much larger hard-working majority matters little to liberals. It is not so much that they are for amnesty for most, as that they are against deportation for some — a group that in aggregate could be in the hundreds of thousands. Watch the eroding negotiations, as Obama casts his alluring bait, hooks his Republican fish, and then yanks them around on requisite border enforcement, prior arrests and convictions, and the unemployed on public assistance. For demagogic purposes, there is only a Dream Act, not a non-Dream Act; all are eligible for citizenship, almost none for deportation; only future brain surgeons crossed the border illegally, not those who sometimes commit felonies or drive while intoxicated.
For the political liberal, the children of illegal aliens vote solidly Democratic and will be expected to do so in bloc fashion for the future. For the cultural liberal, everything from Chicano Studies Departments and La Raza to affirmative action, setasides, and cultural chauvinism are predicated on massive influxes of foreign nationals that take two or even three generations to assimilate fully and so skew statistical surveys of the status of the resident Latino community. The old melting pot is derided in elite ethnic circles as much as the bankrupt model of the salad bowl is praised.
Without illegal immigration, Latinos eventually would become something akin, for example, to the mostly middle-class Italian-American community (does it have a lobbying group known as La Razza?) — politically balanced, without tribal appendages in the media and academia, with a young person named Lopez no different from one named Pirelli, ethnicity becoming merely incidental rather than essential to his persona.
What then should be the Republican position?
First, in the short term, insist on civil speech, and refer to illegally residing foreign nationals with respect and dignity — and yet also without the fawning and transparent obsequiousness that earn contempt rather than respect. Make the argument that the present state of entitlements is unsustainable and that conservative approaches to the economy and the popular culture are more in tune with immigrants’ longer-term aspirations. And then hope for charismatic, high-profile national leaders like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who, for largely emotional reasons, might be able to help peel off maybe 40 percent of the so-called Latino vote.
All that said, Latinos will not break for Republicans, or even split 50/50, until ethnicity becomes a secondary issue. That evolution will take more than civility, courtesy, and sympathetic Latino spokesmen. It will demand years of melting-pot principles instead of tribal pandering. Some of these principles are:
1. There must be a closed and enforceable border that eliminates all illegal entry. That reality must precede, not follow or be simultaneous with, pathways granted to citizenship.
2. Green-card residence could be offered to those who initially broke our immigration law — but only with carefully crafted prerequisites, including substantial residency in the U.S., a clean criminal record, and proof of employment and independence from public assistance. For those who qualify, the green card should be forthcoming; for those who do not, the road should lead back to one’s country of origin.
3. An eventual pathway to citizenship for the qualified green-card holder should hinge on acquisition of proficiency in English and other traditional citizenship tests, presumably satisfied as the resident applicant waits behind those legal applicants whom he cut in front of in illegal fashion when he first came here.
4. We should insist on an ethnically blind legal-immigration system focusing on granting citizenship on the basis on education and skills — and not prejudiced on the basis of national origin.
Sticking to these principles would probably mean that the Republicans would at best capture no more than 40 percent of the Latino vote in the next few elections. But the reform offers the best hope that Latinos, like most other ethnic groups, would eventually become indifferent to immigration policy, politically ambiguous, and more likely to vote for the candidate on the basis of his positions and his character, and not the nature of his ethnic agenda.
For those very reasons, expect the president and his immigration supporters to praise these principles in the abstract and oppose them bitterly in the concrete. Their purpose is not to institute comprehensive immigration reform, but to demand amnesty, to renege on its prerequisites, to blame Republicans for the failure of compromise, to demagogue the issue in the next election, and to rest content with the continuance of the present non-system that has so greatly benefited both professional ethnics and Democratic operatives.