GOP Evolving on Immigration

The hardline stance that many Republicans hold on immigration policy has long struck me as immoral, not just economically harmful. High-skilled immigrants are the most entrepreneurial group in America. Low-skilled immigrants not only improve their own lives by coming here, they improve everyone else’s by further refining the division of labor. Economics jargon aside, it is unethical for some people to decide where other, peaceful people may or may not live — and to use force to do so.

Tuesday’s election results are causing many GOP leaders to reconsider their nativist leanings. Just look at these Politico stories from the last 24 hours or so. Their sheer number is surprising, since immigration isn’t a particularly hot issue right now:

  • Haley Barbour urges immigration reform
    “[W]e are in a global battle for capital and labor, and we need to have what is good economic policy for America on immigration because we do need labor. We not only need Ph.Ds in science and technology, we need skilled workers and we need unskilled workers. And we need to have an immigration policy that is good economic policy, and then — and then the politics will take care of itself.”
  • Rick Santorum: GOP must reach Latinos
    “Yeah, I think we did lose a lot of [the] Hispanic vote,” he said. “I think one of the reasons [is], we didn’t talk about all the issues that that community, which, as all immigrant communities are, there are a disproportionate [number who are] middle and lower income who are trying to struggle to rise. We didn’t have a strong message for those folks. And I’m not just talking Hispanics, I’m talking writ large.”
  • Can Marco Rubio save the GOP on immigration?
    Rubio and his advisers are well aware of the risks: He must thread a needle as he tries to portray an open, tolerant party while not incensing the ultraconservative base who want tall fences, closed borders and nothing that looks like amnesty for illegal immigrants.
  • Krauthammer pro-amnesty, not citizenship
    “I think Republicans can change their position, be a lot more open to actual amnesty with enforcement — amnesty, everything short of citizenship — and to make a bold change in their policy.
  • Hannity: I’ve ‘evolved’ on immigration and support a ‘pathway to citizenship’
    “The majority of people here, if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done.”

This is big. I suspect that their motives for opening up are electoral, rather than from economic knowledge or humanitarianism. It could even be that they’ve always been on the tolerant side of things, but thought until now that saying so wouldn’t fly with the median GOP voter. I don’t much care if motives are pure or impure; results are what matters. It may have taken the GOP until Tuesday to learn that threatening mass deportation tends to alienate Hispanic voters, but at least they’re learning. And their new political calculus could result in positive reform.

Immigration is not the only issue where the GOP is evolving in the right direction. Aside from Rick Santorum and a few others (and even he’s coming around on immigration!), the party took great pains to de-emphasize its traditional stances on social issues such as same-sex marriage and drug prohibition. Given how those issues fared in a number of states, this was a wise move.

Going forward, it looks like the GOP will continue to restrain its worst impulses. They’ll become politically irrelevant if they don’t. The rising generation of voters is very tolerant on social issues, regardless of party affiliation. This is unlikely to change as they age. No going back now.

Usually I bemoan the fact in a democracy, voters get what they want. But on immigration and many social issues, this is turning out to be a good thing. At the very least, Republicans are becoming a little less noxious than they used to be. They’re certainly becoming a little less embarrassing.

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