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Despite GOP push on immigration, doubts rampant
Question of the Day
Despite a year of pressure from top Republican leaders saying it's politically necessary for the party to pass an immigration bill, rank-and-file conservatives at CPAC are unconvinced, saying they want their party focus to be on border security rather than working with Democrats to legalize illegal immigrants.
Activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference also doubted Republican leaders' belief that immigrants and Hispanic voters — the key demographic the GOP leadership wants to reach — will be conservative voters.
"For Republicans to believe these newly minted citizens are going to vote Republican, they are crazy," said Kevin Williams, 45, of New Jersey. "It is not going to happen."
Marty Farrell, of Maryland, said that granting legalization would set a bad precedent. "There are legal ways to do things," said Mr. Farrell, 54.
From the CPAC stage, most speakers steered clear of immigration — even Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, who led the push last year to pass through the Senate a bill that grants a pathway to citizenship to most illegal immigrants.
The one big exception was Donald Trump, who warned that if conservatives let 11 million illegal immigrants become citizens, they won't win their votes.
"With immigration, you better be smart, you better be tough. They're taking your jobs, and you better be careful," Mr. Trump said.
After the 2012 election, Republican Party leaders concluded they lost in part because of their strict stance on illegal immigration, which they said alienated Hispanic voters.
With big-money backers pleading for action, a handful of Senate Republicans helped pass a bill through that chamber. But action has stalled in the House, with leaders saying they want to pass legislation, but most of their troops in the chamber saying they don't trust President Obama to enforce the law, and there's little appetite from their constituents back home.
The divisions over the thorny issue were apparent Thursday during a CPAC panel discussion.
"Granting legal status, or amnesty if you prefer, is bad policy that is unfair, is costly and it won't work," said Derrick Morgan, of the Heritage Foundation.
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, countered that Republicans must act now on immigration if they wish to stay relevant in national elections.
"For those who have been here for a very long time, let's give them a path to legal status," Mr. Aguilar said.
Even the panel itself came under fire, however.
"You have to wonder when a self-described conservative organization stacks an immigration panel with amnesty advocates," said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, who has pushed for a crackdown on illegal immigration. "For the second year in a row, CPAC has featured a panel where all but one speaker supports the agenda of liberal Democrats and the liberal national media."
Steven A. Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, also disputed Mr. Aguilar's conclusion that legalizing illegal Hispanic immigrants would be good for the GOP.
"The only way to come to the conclusion that accelerating immigration will help Republicans politically is to ignore all the survey data on what voters in immigrant communities want from government," Mr. Camarota said. "Even with the current level of immigration, it is hard to see how the Republican Party survives as conservative and nationally competitive."
But Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri said Republicans should learn a lesson from post-election polls in Texas that showed Hispanics favored a guest-worker program — even if it does not include legalization of illegal immigrants.
Whatever the case, he said, the issue is so delicate that it could, over the long run, decide whether the Lone Star State stays in the Republican column.
"Currently, we get around 40 percent of the Hispanic vote," he said. "If we have any major erosion among our Hispanic Republicans, if they get discouraged or disillusioned in any way, then Texas will be ripe for a Democratic turnover. So if you adopt a policy that turns off Hispanics in Texas that vote for the Texas Republican candidate, then the party will not survive nationally, and you cannot elect a Republican president in my lifetime."
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