With bipartisan efforts underway in both houses of Congress to reach a consensus on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), the GOP is now at the table and it looks like some version of CIR will pass this year. In fact, the Republican National Committee (RNC) dipped its toes into policy waters when they endorsed immigration reform as part of their recent “autopsy” report.
Whether the party playing a constructive role in the process is due to pragmatic policies priorities, the electoral whacking we took among Hispanics in 2012, or a new-found compassion is almost irrelevant; what matters now is that the Republican Party is now in a position to help propel immigration reform across the finish line. To be sure, CIR has been a wedge issue used by both parties over the last several years in order to fire up their respective bases, but wedge issues have a shelf life and we are a point where most on both sides want to see a resolution.
However, before we “cantamos victoria,” it’s important to note that this is not yet a done deal. There remains a significant split among Republicans on important details in CIR proposals. In broad terms, for simplicity’s sake, I will group current Republican positions into three categories: Ostriches, Cheetahs and Owls. The Ostriches are those that are burying their heads in the sand and think we don’t need to do anything special on immigration reform. I refer to them as ostriches because this group does not accept the prevailing political reality that the majority of the American people, including a majority of Republicans, believe the immigration system should be reformed, including a way to normalize the status of undocumented immigrants. They would focus on enforcement alone and believe any efforts towards a special path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million currently undocumented persons in the U.S would be akin to rewarding illegal behavior. Even those ostriches that express compassion towards undocumented immigrants (e.g., Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM), believe that they need to go back home and try to return the legal way. If they don’t want to do that, if they want to work here right now, said Pearce, then they need to become legal guest workers.
The Cheetahs are those that are working towards a compromise proposal in Congress that can be presented in the coming days and passed by the summer. The Cheetahs want to get this done as soon as possible, taking advantage of the apparent political momentum. The proposal would include a path to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants. Their hope is that quick passage of comprehensive immigration reform would provide Republicans with enough time to heal wounds and build bridges with Hispanic voters in time for the 2014 mid-term elections and then a wide open 2016 presidential election. Cheetahs include Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and others working on a bipartisan plan in the Senate.
The Owls on the other hand have misgivings about a path to citizenship and are concerned about a variety of the related issues, including our ability to achieve operational control of the border, workplace verification, enforcement once immigration reform is enacted, the scope of family reunification and more. They generally support CIR and will play an important role in ensuring its passage, but they will endeavor to slow things down just long enough to make sure whatever compromise legislation passes is thoughtful in its implications. House Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Raul Labrador, and others call for an open mind on CIR, but want to make sure we do not end up with a similar situation 20 years from now. One of the things both the Cheetahs and the Owls agree on is the notion that it cannot be easier for someone who is undocumented to obtain citizenship than those that have been waiting in line for years to come to the country legally.
Whatever compromise is crafted in Congress, those of us who believe CIR is in the best interests of our economy, our security, and our society’s culture of compassion understand that only a bipartisan plan can pass. Wherever you fall in the spectrum of the debate, the goal must be a workable, acceptable piece of legislation that the president can sign and we should get behind that compromise. Do not let your view of perfect be the enemy of good.
Danny Vargas, President of marketing consulting firm VARCom Solutions and former Co-Chair for the campaign Juntos con Romney in Virginia. 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.