With nearly 22 million eligible voters nationally and a key to winning several swing states, I can say with certainty that Governor Romney’s campaign understands how important the Latino vote will be in the 2012 presidential election. They recently announced their “Juntos Con Romney” Hispanic leadership team. They have held a series of events across the country and are making a point to communicate with Hispanic voters on some of our key issues—jobs, the economy, education, etc. However, having said that, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is immigration reform.
During his speech at NALEO this week, Romney provided a vision where the economy comes back strong, where jobs are being created and where Latinos will play an ever-increasing role in shaping our future. On immigration he described his long-held view that legal immigration should be enhanced and that military service should be rewarded. But he did not endorse the current version of the DREAM Act and did not lay out his plan for dealing with the nearly 11 million current illegal immigrants. He did make it a point to say he would work with leaders of Congress of both parties to implement a national immigration strategy to fix our broken system. While not the breakout moment many of us had hoped for, the window has at least been opened a crack for a solution towards comprehensive immigration reform.
We know that he is stridently anti-amnesty and honestly so are most Americans and most Latinos. But most folks do want to see a solution. Realistically though, it must be a workable, sustainable, legislative solution that provides long-term certainty to the young people encouraged by President Obama’s recent executive order, but who also know that it does not have the force of law behind it.
For the GOP as a whole, we should embrace immigration reform as a conservative initiative and here’s why. Simply put, we are a nation of immigrants but also a nation of laws. As a Party, we have a history of fighting for individual rights, safer communities, and finding solutions to the big problems we face. It has been often said that the Republican Party is a natural home for Hispanics and we need to put out the welcome mat.
We now have around 11 million people in the country illegally; up from about 2 million when the last immigration reform package was passed in 1986. The first thing we should accept is that there is plenty of blame to go around as to how we got to this point. The immigrants who came here illegally, the executive branch under both parties that failed to secure the border and enforce the laws, the employers who took advantage of a broken system and the Congress that never fixed an immigration system that didn’t meet the needs of our economy and allow for more legal immigration.
The other thing we need to accept is that neither extreme is reasonable. We cannot and should not have open borders and we can’t conceivably deport 11 million people. As a conservative Republican I am a staunch supporter of the concept of the rule of law, but it is clear that immigration reform is needed, now. The basis of which has broad support in Congress and among the American public—limit it to those who have been here for years, require a background check, issue bio-metric identification cards, allow for legal residency and work permits renewable every few years, require a significant fine so that we actually sanction illegal behavior as opposed to rewarding it, and frankly, in my opinion citizenship would need to be off the table. At the same time, we need to ensure our borders are reasonably secured. The amount of crime and violence along the border has created an understandable level of fear and immigration reform must be tied to efforts to control our borders (north and south) and our ports of entry.
We have millions of people living in a shadow economy and not fully integrated and invested in society. They make up a pool of human capital that we need to support our economy, our security and our way of life. My party should take up the mantle of leadership, with ideas, reform and solutions and with any luck they will move to do so.
Danny Vargas, President of marketing consulting firm VARCom Solutions. Former Commissioner, National Museum of the American Latino Commission, Former National Chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, regular MSNBC contributor, U.S. Air Force veteran raised in NYC.