State, national columnists

Is the GOP about to soften its hard stance against immigration?

The Republican Party has long been known for its hard stance against illegal immigration. But former Florida governor Jeb Bush – widely seen as a contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 – is sounding a different note, saying that many immigrants come to the United States as an “act of love” to provide for their families. It’s still a crime, he said, but one that should be treated differently from other crimes.

Is Jeb Bush right? Should we treat immigration differently? Can he still win the GOP nomination with his stance? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the Red-Blue America columnists, debate the issue.

Joel Mathis

One thing’s for certain: Jeb Bush will never be president. The GOP voters who pick their party’s nominee will never select a man who speaks about illegal immigrants in such empathetic, humane terms.

Which is great for Democrats.

It’s been a decade since John Judis and Ruy Teixeira produced “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” which predicted America’s demographic trends – particularly the growth of the Latino population – would produce an electorate increasingly inclined to vote for Democrats and against Republicans.

The 2012 election – in which Mitt Romney received the votes of most white guys and Barack Obama collected a majority of everybody else – seemed to confirm that thesis. And Republicans knew it too: It’s why Sean Hannity almost immediately softened his rhetoric on immigration after that election, and why Sen. Marco Rubio spent a year in his failed attempt to bring the Democratic and Republican parties together on a grand bargain to achieve some level of immigration reform.

But it wasn’t the Democrats who failed Rubio. It was the GOP base, which won’t allow their representatives to vote for any measure that offers any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already here. How silly.

Unless you’re an American Indian, your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents came here for the exact same reasons immigrants come today, facing the exact same challenges – ranging from language barriers to simple contempt – faced by today’s immigrants. Republicans want you to believe this wave is different, somehow, more threatening to the American identity. That’s what conservatives said during previous immigration waves, going all the way back to Ben Franklin’s time.

Millions of immigrants here now aren’t, for the most part, going home. They have family and friends who vote, though; someday, too, their children and grandchildren will vote. Forget “love” as a justification; you’d think the GOP would love its own electoral prospects enough to change. It doesn’t. It’s going to be a great few decades to be a Democrat.

Ben Boychuk

If illegal immigration is an “act of love,” what does that make legal immigration? An act of compliance? How boring. Love and bureaucracy don’t mix.

As “acts of love” go, however, it’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly sneaking across the border might fall on the spectrum. It seems more momentous than a first kiss or a first marriage, but less significant than the birth of a child or remaining devoted to the Chicago Cubs.

As you can see, the metaphor runs into trouble quickly. How many adulterers could justify cheating on their spouses as an “act of love”? What are crimes of passion if not perverted “acts of love”? What is sin if not love misdirected?

We’re talking policy, not theology. Not all illegal acts are immoral, and not all immoral acts are illegal. But we really don’t need a potential Republican presidential candidate confusing people about the rule of law this way.

Gov. Jeb Bush is right about this much: As crimes go, crossing the border of the United States illegally isn’t quite so bad as murder, rape or disturbing a federally protected wetland. The hardworking men and women at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau will tell you it’s much more serious than jaywalking or breaking the speed limit, however.

But the truth is, federal agents are more likely to use force against a rancher raising “trespass cattle” in Clark County, Nev., than they are to crack down on the thousands of people trespassing daily on U.S. soil in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. That may not tell you everything you need to know about the government’s misplaced priorities, but it should tell you a great deal.

Bush believes some illegal immigration “is a different kind of crime” and that even though “there should be a price paid . . .  it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”

This is wishful thinking, not serious statesmanship. But given the intractable politics of immigration reform, perhaps it’s better to play down hard-nosed considerations of sovereignty, security, assimilation and citizenship – the stuff that nations depend upon to survive. Who needs a green card when all you need is love?

Ben Boychuk ([email protected]) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis ([email protected]) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.

Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis


Discussion | 6 comments

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  • rlw895April 11, 2014 - 2:54 am

    The one issue about immigration reform that has huge public support yet neither party has promoted--I presume out of fear of how the other party would demagogue it--is to remove the birthright citizenship language from the Constitution and direct that it be the subject of federal statute instead. It makes no sense for the Constitution to declare that any child born in the United States, whether the mother is here legally or not or whether she is a US citizen or not, should have a Constitutional right to citizenship.

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  • Mr. PracticalApril 11, 2014 - 6:21 am

    I agree with that. That would take away one of the incentives to come here illegally. Then we need to effectively close our borders. Then, and only then, can we talk about comprehensive reform. Any conservative that softens his or her stance on immigration will lose support and gain no political advantage with Hispanic voters.

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  • JagApril 11, 2014 - 8:54 am

    Now Joel I think you need to go back to democrat school and relearn your talking points because it looks like you flunked the first time around, we can agree on one thing thou thank god Jeb Bush will never be president because of his views on this issue and not staying with our core values Oh and let’s not forget what daddy did with Medicare part B and did not even figure out how to pay for it, You see Joel we do turn on our own when they get stupid, another example Sen. Marco Rubio was on his way to the top until he presented his own bill on this issue and did not stick to our core values are you starting to see a pattern here Joel (core values) and how silly is it for your president not to enforce the laws that we already have and not go after these cities like san Francisco a safe haven city (cut the money off) and see how fast they change their mind, Now you say it is going to be a great few decades to be a Democrat but is was just predicted by an independent math guy that the republican’s will hold the house and take back the senate, there are plenty of numbers out there that show the republican’s do better with the Latino voter when we stick to our core values. I hope you don’t hurt yourself Joel come November when you are looking for that left turn and all of a sudden it goes right

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  • JagApril 11, 2014 - 8:57 am

    sorry it was brother but still a Bush

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  • CD BrooksApril 11, 2014 - 9:08 am

    Joel, I said this several years ago and I will say it again Jeb Bush is the ONLY chance the GOP might have to land the presidency. As a democrat, his involvement terrifies me on many levels. If you’re a Republican you should beg him to run. Anyone else faces another epic landslide.

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  • CD BrooksApril 11, 2014 - 9:09 am

    Jag, you cannot be serious? I will look forward to the silence here "the morning after." Just like when Obama was reelected. Blissful...

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