The Magazine

America and Its Immigrants

A hate-love relationship.

Jul 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 43 • By FRED BARNES
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In the 1950s and 1960s, hundreds of thousands of young Latinos came as guest workers to labor on farms and in orchards. The effect: Illegal immigration dwindled to near zero. The program ended in 1964. Now “family unification” is dominant. “Nearly two-thirds [of immigrant visas] go to relatives of existing residents, under an expansive definition of family preferences that includes not just spouses and minor children but parents, siblings and unmarried adult children,” Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Young foreigners were left with a choice: Go to the end of the line and wait a decade, maybe two, before becoming a legal immigrant (assuming you’re qualified), or cross the border in violation of U.S. law. By far the stronger incentive was (and is) to enter illegally.

In Congress, everyone agrees the immigration system needs fixing, and Republicans would gain from leading the effort, as Marco Rubio has already done in the Senate. Enacting serious reform won’t give Republicans an instant boost, but it’s likely to stop the hemorrhaging of support among Latino voters. And if it gives the economy a lift, Republicans will deserve some of the credit.

Those are important political concerns, but not the main reason Republicans belong on the side of reform. The larger reason is it’s the right thing to do for the country. Reform that reflects the tradition of welcoming immigrants, then Americanizing them, is a worthy goal.

Republicans in the House have balked at the Senate reform bill. That obligates them to substitute their own version. Failing to offer an alternative and leaving the status quo in place would be an opportunity tragically missed.

Luis Gutiérrez, a leader of House Democrats on immigration, counts 195 Democrats ready to vote for a bill similar to the Senate’s. He says he’s talked to enough Republicans who privately are pro-reform to reach 218 votes, a majority.

But those Republicans are a minority of their caucus, and Speaker John Boehner is leery of a floor vote on a bill so few Republicans back. It’s up to him, as GOP leader, to fashion a compromise that a majority of Republicans and as many as 100 Democrats can support. Otherwise, we’re headed toward a setback for reform, for Republicans, and, worst of all, for the country.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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