Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

Recalling Reagan's take on amnesty

It has long been an article of faith among Republicans that any mention of Ronald Reagan's name must be accompanied by the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.

But that might soon change to the O'Jays' Back Stabbers.

During the Republican presidential primary, there was an intense competition among GOP candidates to see how often they could invoke a reference to Reagan in an effort to out-Gipper one another. It would have surprised no one had Newt Gingrich showed up for a debate wearing a jaunty Stetson and jodhpurs.

The Republican gathering in Tampa was less of an exercise in anointing the party's presidential candidate than one long seance with the dearly departed Dutch.

What a difference a good old-fashioned electoral keister kicking can make. And now Reagan's legacy is running the risk of being posthumously relegated to the GOP's Herbert Hoover basement annex.

Since we live in a time a political attention deficit syndrome, many Republicans would not like to be reminded that just a few short months ago, pols on the right railed against suggestions that illegal immigrants should be given any consideration when it came to getting work permits or offered even a lengthy and convoluted path to eventual citizenship.

Heresy! Apostasy! Treason!

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney proposed making life so miserable, so oppressive, so draconian that a Hispanic picking cabbage for less than minimum wage and living in squalor would scamper back to live in the midst of Mexico's narco wars rather than spend one more day in Alabama.

To no one's surprise — unless you are a Republican who embraced sending illegal immigrants to one of Glenn Beck's imaginary detention camps — Hispanics delivered 71 percent of their presidential vote to Barack Obama. The Hispanic rejection of Romney served to further marginalize the GOP as the party of largely grumpy white people clinging to their checkbooks and wing collars.

Before you could say: Barack Obama — Happy Days Are Here Again, some Republicans have engaged in the cardinal sin within the party of attempting common sense with respect to immigration. Elections can be very cathartic.

Deportation? What deportation? Who said anything about that?

There is Florida's Marco Rubio, who ascended to the U.S. Senate on a wave of tea party hosannas, now getting behind a bipartisan plan to allow an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to obtain a work permit, pay fines, undergo a background check and go to the back of the line for eventual citizenship.

In a word: Illegal immigrants who follow the new rules would be granted amnesty.

In 1986, before the Republican Party was hijacked by the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles, Reagan was an avid supporter of the essentially the same proposal.

Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which conferred amnesty on about 3 million illegal immigrants and called for beefing up border security and penalizing employers who hired undocumented workers.

The bill is now viewed as a failure because Congress failed to act to fund many of its provisions. But that doesn't mean Reagan was wrong then — or now.

There should be no confusion that the man who is practically deified by Republicans was also a pragmatic proponent of humanely dealing with the issue of illegal immigration. In today's Republican Party, that sort of political paganism will land you in the tea party stocks of shame.

That explains why the Republican-leaning Hispanic Leadership Network — which judging from the November vote probably has about four members — issued a list of talking points urging Republicans to refrain from evoking Reagan's name and his support for amnesty when discussing the new immigration 2.0 effort.

The memo also urges Republicans to stop using the terms "illegals," "immigrants" and "anchor babies." The HLN isn't too crazy about the phrase "pathway to citizenship" when talking about a pathway to citizenship. It advises Republicans to steer away from phrases like "send them all back" or "electric fence" or "build a wall along the entire border," which ought to render much of the GOP mute.

The tortured preoccupation with rhetoric rather than realistic immigration policy notwithstanding, the GOP's inability to broaden its base beyond mostly whites only points to a continued slouching toward irrelevance.

Or as the great man might say: "There you go again."

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