(Jim Clark) – Last month, there was a flurry of GOP activity in Las Vegas. First, there was the nationally televised Republican presidential candidate debate. This was followed by a conservative leadership conference, which in turn, was followed by a meeting of the Nevada Republican Central Committee. One of the things that came out of all this was the fact that seemingly no one can even talk about illegal immigration without becoming apoplectic.
The presidential candidates tried to outdo each other to see who could sound the most hostile towards illegal immigrants, clearly pandering to the redneck right. Then a leadership conference panel dedicated to a discussion of Latino voters ended its presentation without answering questions posed by Republican Latinos in the audience, resulting in a melee. Finally, a presentation by the chair of the center right Nevada Latinos for Prosperity was pulled from the agenda and moved to a spot where few would attend.
The GOP’s problem is that its perceived attitude toward illegal immigrants turns off substantial numbers of legal citizens of Hispanic heritage, most of whom vote, and who constitute the only fast-growing cohort of the American population
The usual justifications of those with a “send ‘em all back to Mexico” attitude are: “Illegals don’t pay taxes, they cost taxpayers big bucks for welfare and food stamps, and come here to have babies who then become birthright citizens under the US Constitution.” Is all this true?
The Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service recently published an article by Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst at the free-market think tank Reason Foundation. Ms. Dalmia pointed out that, in 1996, the Internal Revenue Service began issuing tax identification numbers to illegal aliens who had no Social Security cards. As a result, we now have incontrovertible data that close to 8 million of our estimated 12 million illegal immigrants file personal income taxes. Moreover, these workers use fake Social Security numbers in order to work so Social Security and Medicare taxes are automatically withheld even though the workers will never be able to collect the benefits. Revenues from these “fake” numbers constitute 10% of the agency’s surplus (which is why us old codgers’ Social Security checks don’t bounce) and are growing by $50 billion a year.
Also in 1996, Congress passed a welfare reform bill, which disqualified illegal immigrants from nearly all government welfare programs, including food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid and Medicare. About the only services illegal immigrants still receive are emergency medical care and K-12 education, not a bad bargain for their bailing out Social Security and Medicare.
What’s the GOP to do, particularly in states like Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada, where the Latino vote will drive the 2012 election? Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush recently told the Wall Street Journal: “All immigrants – the newly arrived and the second generation – share one trait; they’re aspirational. Conservative candidates, therefore, should promote policies that reward people who are aspirational.”
Sixty percent of Democratic Hispanic Florida voters supported Bush’s reelection in 2002, so it must work. Bush would like to see a very aggressive guest worker program that ebbs and flows with demand as well as an expansion of the H-1B visa program allowing high tech companies to recruit highly educated, highly motivated people from around the world.
To deal with illegal aliens already here, Bush would offer them a chance to change their status. If they learn English, pay a fine, accept a waiting period and have a clean record he would legitimize their worker status.
So, there you are Republicans. If you don’t want to become a permanent minority party, you’d better take the advice of a conservative who’s been there.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and a member of the Washoe County and Nevada State GOP Central Committees.)