GOP Split on Immigration

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the son and brother of the two presidents of that name, has courageously come out against the new anti-immigration law in Arizona. "It places a significant burden on local law enforcement and you have civil liberties issues that are significant as well," Bush said in a telephone interview with Politico. Conservative darling, and soon-to-be GOP Senate nominee Marco Rubio has also voiced concerns about the law. And, Karl Rove, never known as a sentimentalist when it comes to civil rights, has also warned about the political consequences of the GOP becoming tagged as the anti-immigrant party. 

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Michael Gerson also joined the pro-immigrant bandwagon in the Republican ranks. He points out that Gov. Pete Wilson’s support for Proposition 187, an anti-immigration measure in California in the 1990s, ended up costing the Republicans dearly in that state. But, he notes that in embracing pro-immigrant policies, men like Jack Kemp and George W. Bush not only gained a heftier share of the Latino vote, they gained in stature too. Gerson notes that Mike Huckabee and Meg Whitman have also voiced reservations about the new law and that "Republicans wishing to gain some everlasting credit should join them."

Gerson’s message evidently did not make it to Alabama. There, Tim James, a Republican running for governor, has run a blatantly racist ad that says, among other things, "This is Alabama; we speak English." He promises that if he is elected governor he will end the current practice of the state’s DMV which adminsters driving exams in 12 foreign languages. He says it is costly and that his background as a businessman leads him to look for such savings. What he doesn’t tell prospective voters is that implementing such a policy would probably mean forfeiting tens of millions of dollars in federal transportation dollars. Businessman my tuckus - oops, I guess Yiddish doesn't cut it in Alabama.

Mr. James never met my grandmother. She was from what was then Poland and is now part of Belarus. She came to America, married a fellow Pole, and started a family. She gave birth to twelve children, nine of whom lived to adulthood. My grandfather was a farmer and sometimes bootlegger and he earned enough money to support the family modestly. My grandmother had her hands full cooking for the large family, keeping their small home clean, and, of course, attending daily Mass. There was no need for her to learn English, and she never did. If she had wanted to, there were opportunities to do so, but she chose not to. I do not know if she ever procured, or ever wanted, a driver’s license, but if she had, I do not see why her decision to remain a homemaker in no need of English should have legally prevented her from obtaining a driver’s license with a test administered in a language that was as common on the streets of Jewett City, Connecticut as Spanish is in some neighborhoods today. I suspect back then, the solution might not have been a test in Polish but to allow one of her children to take the test with her, doing the translation. But, such ad hoc arrangements are no longer possible in our litigious society because they leave the state open to a lawsuit whenever someone with a license has an accident and it turns out they did not take their exam alone.

Of course, Mr. James is not alone. If supporting immigrants adds stature according to Gerson, Sen. John McCain is the incredibly shrinking Republican. He has forfeited his maverick credential, earned in part because of his championing of immigration reform when President Bush pushed the effort back in 2007, and now says he supports the Arizona law. I guess a primary challenge on your right will do that to you. And, speaking of 2007, it is well to remember that the reform effort died in the Senate when a cloture vote failed on a 46-53 vote. 15 Democrats and 37 Republicans voted to kill the bill and all of them in both parties should hold their heads in shame for that vote.

Still, the Arizona law is a more vexing challenge for the GOP today than it is for Democrats. I do not know of any Democratic elected official, at least no prominent one, who has voiced support for the Arizona measure. But, Democrats should resist the desire to pursue the issue merely to gain a partisan advantage. They need to pursue a bipartisan solution because that is the only kind of solution with a shot at making it through the Senate. And, without action at the national level, the lives of immigrants will continue to be threatened by racist laws like that in Arizona and by racist leaders like Tim James. The immigrants don’t deserve that and, frankly, neither does the GOP. They deserve better. Let’s hope they choose it.


Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 1 month ago
Of course, Jeb Bush's wife is Mexican, and his children look Latino enough to be pulled over, so I'm not sure if his coming out against the Arizona law is courageous or protective.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years ago
It's my husband who gets the double-takes, Sheila - I am just too non-descript and get lost in the big American melting pot.
Other than the Miami Cubans and a few tokens, the GOP does not represent the immigrant populations in America.
Interestingly, some friends who just returned from a visit to Cuba rave about how interesting and exciting that culture is, particularly the art, music, food (and cars, of course!) that have thrived there in the last 50 years of Communist rule.  If only they would open Cuba up, they say.  Viva la difference!
The Arizona law is rooted in fear that the days of privileged white rule are over.  It's a cultural revolt. 
7 years 1 month ago
Yep, the GOP is more diverse than the Democratic Party.
Sheila Bennett
7 years ago
With a name like Cioffoletti-you might be ripe for racial profiling in Arizona, be leary during your next visit.
Yes Joe, GOP are know for their diverse political stance.
7 years ago
You forgot the governor of Va, you know the one you basically labelled a racist, has raised concerns about the bill.
We need this debate within the Party, and I'm glad to see Rubio leading the charge, along with Jeb Bush.  Nonetheless, stepped up enforcement has got to be a credible part of the reform or it's DOA, and not only because of Republicans.  Right or wrong, polling in Arizona shows huge support for the bill, which shows the frustration of some along what is basically a non-existent border.
PS - "Maverick" & "independent" only mean "votes with Democrats" to most liberals.  As David Brooks noted the other day, Democrats like to use another term for people like Lieberman who crosses party lines.
7 years ago
Jeff you are right about this: "Maverick" & "independent" only mean "votes with Democrats" to most liberals.

Also "moderate" Republican means "supports abortion rights".
Sheila Bennett
7 years ago
I agree Beth my comments were tongue and cheek to Joe.
I don't experience the GOP to have a very diverse view on much of anything.
Helena Loflin
7 years ago
Mr. Winters, like your grandmother, my paternal grandmother came here from Poland and never learned to speak English for all the same reasons.  She raised 11 children of whom my father was the oldest.  Despite not learning English, my "babcia" was 100% American.  She hoped and prayed for the safe return of four (4) of her sons who fought the Germans and the Japanese in WWII.  Imagine having four sons in harms way, all at the same time.  She didn't need to speak English to express her love for and loyalty to America.  My babcia was America.
Jeff Bagnell
7 years ago
No Michael, it's not an "anti-immigration" law as you dishonestly state; it is an anti-illegal immigration law.  You are not fooling anyone who is at all familiar with this issue, I assure you.  
Gabriel Marcella
7 years ago
As an immigrant from Italy to this great country I can identify with the experience of your grandmother. But let's be fair, both she and I entered legally, unlike the hordes that enter the Southwest border by the thousands. Latest estimates are that about 11-12 million are here illegally. This is not only an issue of law, public security, and foreign policy, but of elemental human rights. Moreover, Mr. James is running third in the race for governor. What better way to stir up media attention than by resorting to that old American tradition of nativism!
Jeff Bagnell
7 years ago
Why doesn't American relocate its offices to Nogales on the Arizona-Mexico border?  And then give us some live updates on the dregs of Mexican society and even MS-13 members coming our way.  And other oppressed people. 

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