The Case for Constructive Republican Engagement on Immigration

Immigration will be one of the pressing issues congressional Republicans will face once Joe Biden takes office this month.

The new administration will be buoyed by a clear message stemming from the election: 2016 is long gone, and the American people now reject Donald Trump’s approach to immigration. Indeed, the Trump campaign dialed back its 2016-style, nonstop immigration messaging, while Joe Biden won with an immigration platform that went far beyond mere reversal of Trump policies.

A constructive Republican approach to this reality would be to negotiate in good faith on areas that will benefit the American economy and our ability to finally turn the pandemic recovery corner, such as legislation to fully harness the contributions of essential workers and Dreamers. And, acting on a moral imperative, Republicans should help fix the humanitarian crisis caused by Trump and Stephen Miller’s commitment to separating children from their families.

Evidence of Americans’ support for immigration is as robust as ever and cuts across party lines.  A record 77 percent of Americans say immigration benefits the country, with more Americans supporting an increase in immigration for the first time in 55 years.

A remarkable 69 percent of 2016 Trump voters are in favor of protecting Dreamers, according to Morning Consult/Politico data. Even more damaging to Trump and Miller’s machinations, 65 percent of voters oppose Trump’s destructive family separation policies, including a majority of Republicans and white evangelical protestants. Dreamers, after all, have not broken any law and punitive measures against them is counterproductive at best.

The support for sound immigration policy is astonishing in the face of the four-year assault on all migrants, including those who arrive legally or intend to ask for asylum — a request fully permissible under American law.

The premeditated separation of families by armed government agents produces gut-wrenching examples, including an eight-month old infant held for 12 days before being sent back with only a nine-year-old sibling; a mom from Honduras who was separated from her newborn just minutes after giving birth; the more than 660 children whose parents could not be found after being forcibly separated; and the dozens of women who reported that hysterectomies were performed on them without their consent.

The last four years were also riddled with judicial defeat for Trump’s plans, including a recent ruling on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that was established to temporarily permit some Dreamers to work after stringent vetting.

While Republicans should not automatically accept all of Biden’s immigration proposals, GOP lawmakers who care about having a voice in forging solutions for the good of the country have many reasons to engage in good-faith efforts to work toward legislative solutions, especially to help fight COVID-19.

Immigrants and foreign workers make up a significant portion of first responders, researchers and medical professionals on the front lines combating the coronavirus. Losing these qualified professionals will result in more needless American deaths and impede our economic recovery. Other areas ripe for bipartisan legislative solutions include facilitating agricultural work and protecting immigrant veterans who have risked their lives defending America despite lacking status.

If Republicans aim to push back effectively when proposed Biden policies actually go too far in some areas of immigration policy, they will need to rebuild their own credibility. Productive engagement demands a rejection of both the reflexive fearmongering of the last five years and an awakening to the anti-immigrant propaganda machine that feeds them torrents of lies.

Organizations established by unabashed white nationalist and eugenicist John Tanton have been pursuing a strategy of deceiving Republicans, with their opposition to Latino immigrants rooted in what Tanton claimed is their supposed inferiority.

The extremist Tanton Network’s components, like Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, peddle allegations that are often farcical. In one report, CIS chose to use “immigrant-headed households” to determine welfare use by immigrants, regardless of whether the specific person in the household using government assistance was an American citizen.

Miller installed several Tanton Network veterans in key positions, and helped implement their proposed policies, leading to the atrocities that the American people now resoundingly reject.

Come Jan. 20, Republicans should focus on practical immigration solutions that will benefit all Americans. If they stick to the facts, reject extremism and use the good of the country as their guideline, they can succeed in striking sensible, focused deals that Trump initially said he wanted, but failed to accomplish.

Mario H. Lopez is president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a nonpartisan public policy advocacy organization that advances liberty, opportunity and prosperity for all.

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