On the night of September 12, 2011, the Republican Party began to lose the 2012 election. On that night, in a presidential primary debate in Tampa, Florida, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (believe it or not the most moderate presidential candidate on immigration reform) was booed loudly by the audience for defending having supported and passed (with overwhelming bipartisan legislative support) in-state college tuition for the children of undocumented workers in Texas.
From that moment on, even stronger anti-immigration sentiment took an ever greater hold among significant segments of the party. In the subsequent 2012 GOP primaries, the various candidates seemed to be competing with one another to become the toughest candidate in their opposition to immigration reform, throwing around talking points like "self-deportation" and reducing undocumented workers through "attrition."
Giving the children of undocumented workers in-state tuition and other forms of aid is the "low-hanging fruit" of immigration reform. These children were brought here by their parents. They did not break the law. In our country, we do not normally punish children for their parents' infractions. In most cases, these young people desperately want to be Americans and fully integrate into society by educating themselves to be more productive contributors to this economy and by willingly serving in our military services.
When President Obama announced last June that he was granting temporary reprieves from deportation to hundreds of thousands of these young people, he effectively implemented crucial elements of the "so-called" Dream Act, which had failed to pass Congress because of Republican opposition. President Obama's executive action extended the children of undocumented workers protection for two years from deportation and also enabled them to be employed legally in the U.S. Polls showed 58 percent of Latino voters said the president's actions made them "more enthusiastic" about the president. Gov. Mitt Romney said he would rescind and reverse the president's reprieves if he were to be elected.
Many of us in the social conservative movement have been campaigning for fair, just, comprehensive immigration reform for more than a decade. Former President George W. Bush campaigned in favor of immigration reform in his 2000 presidential campaign and bravely, if unsuccessfully, tried to pass immigration reform into law after his 2004 re-election.
A long-time conservative movement figure called me about a year ago and pleaded with me to stop pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, asserting, "You're splitting the conservative coalition." I replied, "I might be splitting the old conservative coalition in attempting to build a new conservative coalition, and if any conservative coalition is going to be a governing coalition in the future it will include a hefty number of Hispanics."
First and foremost, social conservatives such as myself support fair, just, comprehensive immigration reform because it is the right thing to do. However, it is also imperative for the GOP to embrace such reform if it intends to remain a contender for majority party status in America.
Implacable opposition to immigration reform confined the GOP to 29 percent of the growing Hispanic vote (now 10 percent of the voting electorate) in the 2012 presidential election. In 2004, President George W. Bush garnered 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. That difference between 44 percent in 2004 declining to 29 percent in 2012 was the difference between losing and winning the 2012 presidential election.