GOP on Immigration: Brown People Should Work, Not Vote

At yesterday's House committee hearing on immigration reform, Republicans were desperate, looking for a way to avoid providing a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in this country. From the committee's chairman branding a path to earned citizenship an "extreme" solution in the same league with mass deportation to its former chairman imploring a "compromise between the status quo and a path to citizenship", the Republicans were trying to find a face-saver.

Unfortunately for them, no such solution exists. The president has made it clear on multiple occasions that he will not accept anything less than a clear path to earned citizenship for those who have been in this country, have not committed crimes and are contributing to our economy and society. Immigration advocates have made clear much the same thing.

But the Republican impetus to desperately search for a way to deny citizenship to these immigrants is more than just a policy blunder. It is an insult to say to those members of our society that they should never be able to earn their way to becoming an American. It is an insult to tell them that they are welcome to sacrifice for our country, to work hard to produce for our economy, to work every bit as hard as any American citizen, but not to become a part of our great democratic experiment. Make no mistake, that is what this is about. This is about denying the vote to as many brown people as possible, for as long as possible.

They want the sweat and tear of immigrants for the benefit of big corporations and agribusiness, but they don't want those immigrants to vote. It's deliberate, it's cynical, and it's reprehensible. Republicans know that they are in a bind - that if they stand in the way of comprehensive immigration reform, a growing Latino and other minority populations will put the White House out of their reach for the foreseeable future.

They also know that if they do so, when these immigrants have finally endured the long, hard path to American citizenship, they will become Democratic voters more often than not  - and not because it's a Democratic president that achieved immigration reform but because they identify with the progressive values of equal opportunity, social responsibility and individual freedom. In the place of a nativist America, these new Americans believe in the credo of our country: out of many, one. They believe in celebrating our cultural diversity, giving a helping hand to those who need it, and in the social and generational commitments we have built in this country from Reconstruction to the New Deal to the Great Society to the Affordable Care Act and from Senecca Falls to Selma to Stonewall.

In other words, Republicans are terrified of a quicker shift in the demographics not just because the color of that demographic is changing, but because its values are. They are afraid of a diverse new citizenry that believes in - cover your ears - government! And unlike the Tea Party who only believes in government helping them out, but in a government that helps everyone reach their potential. The right is afraid of a new electorate that believes in the value of work and the rights of workers instead of just the value of wealth and the rights of corporations.

But I've got news for them. That is already the tide. It isn't a tide Republicans will be able to turn back, no matter what they do. Insulting immigrants and their American family members by trying to keep them in a permanently second class legal status will not help the Republicans gain Latino support, Asian support, African American support, or even the support of young white America. The GOP can no longer hunt for a faux solution to appease the Tea Party - who, without a doubt will chew them alive should comprehensive immigration reform become law.

The Republicans are busy trying to make cosmetic changes to their party. As an immigrant, and as an American of color, let me say this: we're not stupid. Yes, I came here with a green card. Yes, my path to citizenship was a lot easier. But my experience becoming an American, I suspect, was not all that different from many other immigrants from other walks of life. I came here an English-deficient, scared 15-year old thrown in the midst of a brand new country and a brand new culture. But I came to learn that my native language and culture did not make me less American - it made me more complete. I came to learn that immersion into the American mainstream did not mean I had to give up my native language and culture - it meant I could share it, have other cultured shared with me, and learn. It is that integration that made me an American - not just on paper but in my heart.

I may not be much of an expert on immigration policy, but I can tell when someone is trying to insult my intelligence from a mile away. The Republican party can either abandon its racist, nativist, Tea Party base and get to the task of rebuilding their party by changing their policies to propose real solutions or they can keep the nativist base and lose the tide of the future. They can either abandon their past and move into a new American future, or they can resist that future and cling to the past stigmas. But they cannot both secure the support of the nativists and avoid the contempt of those who celebrate our diversity.

Even as political strategy, this is more than a little dumb. House Republicans should know that the president will never acquiesce to blocking a path to citizenship forever to immigrants who are already here. They know that the Senate will pass a bill with a path to citizenship. They should know they will lose on this. And when that happens, even the Tea Party won't remember that the House GOP tried to pander to their racist tendencies - the only thing they will remember is that they gave in. You cannot appease crazy. You can only run from it. It's time the Republicans learned that.