Columns / Discourse / May 8, 2013

Debating columnists: Taking immigration reform one step further

As the immigration debate continues, last week saw some hopeful words from Republican Senator Marco Rubio. The proposal set forth by the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group consisting of four senators from each party, looks to find an agreement on immigration that is likely to see some key reforms in paths to citizenship. Rubio has stated that the bill does need some improving, but urges his fellow Republicans to give the bill a chance.

Rubio also claimed that he was taking on the issue “despite the political risk it entails.” Which leads one to question exactly what risks immigration reform entails. Anyone who paid attention to the 2012 presidential race knows that the Republicans did not do well with the Hispanic vote. In fact, seven out of 10 Hispanic votes went President Obama’s way.

So when Rubio, a 2016 presidential hopeful, talks about risks associated with immigration reform, he is not talking about himself. The national ticket can only benefit from seeming more open to immigration issues. The risk seems to be with individual seats.

For those senators from more conservative districts, any amount of leniency in regard to immigration can be dangerous. With constituencies that would gladly elect a more conservative representative to be tough on illegal immigrants, these particular representatives are stuck between what their party wants at a state and national level.

Rick Perry, who has been rather negative about providing “extra” paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants, has chosen to focus on having a more secure border in order to fix the immigration policy. So my question to the conservative side is: why not both?

When discussing Ronald Reagan, immigration policy hardly reaches the top of the list. But I feel it is important to remind conservatives of exactly what his policy was. Like Gov. Perry, Reagan believed that tightening security at the border was key to securing a policy on immigration, but what many forget is that Reagan also advocated for amnesty of illegal immigrants in the 1986 IRCA bill.

This policy allowed amnesty that provided safety and security to those who had already settled down in the U.S. while simultaneously preventing further abuse of a weak border. By merging these two ideas and returning to the roots of Reagan, Republicans can easily sell a familiar conservative message that does not put their national representatives at risk.

So this is why, although I am happy to see Rubio encouraging understanding for the immigration bill, I wish to see the talk go one step further. Rather than marketing immigration reform as this “political risk” that has taken many months to accomplish little, Republicans should really turn around their rhetoric and make this an easy start to a complex problem.

By staying strong on border control, national security is upheld while providing support to an economy that is supported by so many illegal workers. The “Gang of Eight” needs to be an encouraging political story, not a repeat of the bipartisan committee that resulted in the sequester. By changing the way the conservative heads talk and think about immigration reform, real progress can be made without costing any votes at the local or presidential level.

Payton Rose
Senior Payton Rose is a political science major with minors in creative writing and Spanish. This is his first year working for The Knox Student as discourse editor. He has written a political column for TKS for two years.

Tags:  1986 IRCA bill amnesty bipartisan illegal immigrant immigration reform marco rubio Rick Perry

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