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The Right GOP Immigration Package

A Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Friday, December 24, 2010

The controversial anti-immigration bill passed by Arizona lawmakers this year helped and hurt the Democrats in the November election. President Obama used it when he told Latinos that they should vote to "punish our enemies" and "reward our friends" by voting Democratic. In California and Nevada, Latino voters clearly heeded that advice.

Pundits and GOP biggies have a tendency to focus only on the ways the Arizona controversy hurt the GOP, and not on the toll the issue took on Obama nationwide. Recently, veteran Republican strategist Rob Stutzman told Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton that GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman lost big primarily because the issue of illegal immigration drove Latino voters to support Democrat Jerry Brown. Stutzman blamed Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who lost in the primary to Whitman, for pushing Whitman too far to the right on immigration.

Lo siento. (That's Spanish for "I'm sorry.") Non credo. (That's Latin for "horsepuckey.")

Republican Rick Scott won the Florida governor's race with as much as 50 percent of the Latino vote, and he supported the Arizona law.

Bettina Inclan was a spokesperson for Poizner before she worked for Scott. As the daughter of a Cuban mother and Mexican father, Inclan is quite aware of the hurdles Republicans face when trying to woo Latino votes. But, as Scott proved, it can be done.

Scott helped himself by not changing his position on immigration. Inclan noted, "He always gave the same message -- and he talked about the issues that were really important to everyone in Florida, which is jobs."

And: "When we try to cater instead of tailoring, I think that's the problem." Rather than pander, a candidate needs to speak in a tone that conveys respect and commonality -- not (these are my terms) condescension and opportunism.

Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado failed to win election to the office to which he was appointed. The son of a bracero, Maldonado was quick to point out that Latino voters in California tend to vote Democratic more than Floridians.

In California, he said, a politician can't oppose the Dream Act, which would grant legal status to children who came to America illegally before age 16, "and expect Hispanics to vote for you."

(Yes, Maldonado understands that Democrats like Obama talk up immigration issues without delivering tangible results. There is a double standard.)

Me? I see "comprehensive immigration reform" as code for amnesty and a reward for breaking the law, but I like the idea behind the Dream Act. Children don't choose to cross the border illegally -- their parents do.

Indeed, an acceptable Dream Act, if tightly written, would extend a welcoming hand to immigrant children who go to school or join the military, without instantly rewarding adults who chose to flout federal immigration law. Eventually, naturalized Americans would be able to petition for legal residence of immediate family, but the process would take time. If Republicans write the bill, they can make sure the Dream does not include egregious loopholes.

It's wrong to punish children for the sins of their parents. There is a middle way that unites the right thing to do with smart politics.
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See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders.  

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