Hope for the unfinished business of immigration reform
By: Dave Bender, Illinois Business Immigration Coalition | August 30, 2014
Conventional wisdom has it that immigration reform is dead.
I couldn’t disagree more. Though action on reform this year is unlikely, the political calculus is shifting, creating a window of opportunity in 2015.
Even so, stubborn myths persist about immigration reform, namely, that Republicans don’t support it, that it’s bad public policy and that political partisanship makes action impossible.
A closer look at each of these misconceptions shows they are flimsy, false or both.
Reform is good for Republicans. Every Republican considering running for president in 2016 is painfully aware of two numbers: 40 percent and 27 percent. Those are the share of Latino voters won by George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election and Mitt Romney in 2012, respectively.
Simply put, it would be political suicide for Republicans to delay action on reform in the run up to the 2016 election.
As recently as this month, we’ve seen evidence of Republicans running — and winning — on reform. Pro-reform Republicans across the nation, including U.S. senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, all supported reform, were challenged in primaries and sailed to victory.
These wins demonstrate that the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia last June was more about an erosion of in-district support than it was about immigration-reform backlash.
Contrary to pundits’ claims, almost two-thirds of Republicans support comprehensive reform. In few places is this more evident than Illinois. Former U.S. House Speaker Denny Hastert, former governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, governor candidate Bruce Rauner, state House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and state Senate Leader Christine Radogno, to name a few, all support reform.
Reform is too big to die. Some of the most important sectors in the economy employing the most people — manufacturing, technology, healthcare, agriculture, hospitality and retail — would benefit substantially from passage of reform.
Beyond jobs and economic growth, reform helps the nation overcome its debt. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that reform would cut the federal deficit by nearly $1 trillion over 20 years.
As the unfolding border crisis makes abundantly clear, we are woefully ill equipped to treat immigrants and refugees fairly while securing our border. A broken immigration system is a big reason why. It’s time for a big solution.
The political divide can be bridged. Arguably, the most frustrating aspect of the debate is the finger-pointing between Congress and the White House. Republicans say they can’t trust President Barack Obama; Democrats say House Republicans live in fear of tea party forces.
Much of the criticism is code for the fact that mid-term elections are around the corner. Unfortunately, mid-term elections have proven to be a distraction and not a catalyst.
But this January, when the elections have passed and a new Congress is sworn in, unfinished business will get a new lease on life. Republican leaders, like U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida will reach across the aisle to deliberate and compromise.
When policy merits are combined with political imperatives, bipartisanship often is the end product.
A wise man once said that, in marriage or business, patience is the first rule of success. I would add politics to that as well. A little more patience will not only mean success for immigration reform, but for America itself.
Dave Bender is co-chairman of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois and chairman of the Logan County Republican Party. He lives in Lincoln.