- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Would Republicans regret the day they stood against amnesty for illegal immigrants?

In the New York Times, columnist David Brooks asked of conservatives, “Do they think the GOP can have a future if it insults even the Hispanics who are already here [by opposing amnesty proposals]?”

Mr. Brooks was echoing the sentiment of more than a few normally clear-sighted conservatives who suggest that unless the Republican Party gets behind liberal immigration reform plans it will alienate Hispanics and soon be relegated to minority status.

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie recently warned: “Anti-immigration rhetoric [read: border-security-first legislation] is a political siren song, and Republicans must resist its lure by lashing ourselves to our party’s twin masts of freedom and growth or our majority will crash on the shoals.”

But as lawmakers consider various immigration reform measures, they should take a hard look at the reams of polling data that show that standing strong on conservative values, not giving in on amnesty, is the key to winning the hearts, minds and votes of Hispanic Americans.

First off, Hispanics are much more conservative on immigration than is commonly believed. An August 2005 Time poll of Hispanics revealed 61 percent considered illegal immigration either an “extremely serious” or “very serious” problem. In addition, 41 percent thought the U.S. was not doing enough to secure its borders against illegal immigration, while 19 percent felt it was doing “too much.” Moreover, a 2005 Pew Hispanic Center poll showed a majority of both American-born and foreign-born Hispanics opposed increasing the flow of legal immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.A majority of Hispanics (53 percent) even supported building vast border fences and stiffening penalties for illegal aliens.

As an alternative to amnesty, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence recently presented the Border Integrity and Immigration Reform Act, which would require all illegal citizens to leave the country, obtain a visa and re-enter legally. Essentially, the bill includes all of the important border security measures of the House bill passed last year, and adds a provision — allowing illegals to obtain guest worker visas for a duration of two years. Mr. Pence’s plan would also create private worker placement agencies to link specific workers to specific jobs for specified time periods in the United States.

Mr. Pence’s “rational middle ground approach” is a breath of fresh air in the immigration debate, because it recognizes the economic need for additional workers while also addressing the security issues at stake. This non-amnesty solution would be acceptable not only to conservatives, but also to American Hispanics who oppose illegal immigration and “reform” proposals that reward delinquency. After all, many Hispanic Americans did things the right way — enduring a long legal process to enter the country and pursue citizenship. For these immigrants, calls for amnesty by their former compatriots mock the laws and values that made America so appealing in the first place.

So, what can Republicans do to win the allegiance of Hispanic voters? Simple: Stand up for conservative values. A recent Time poll found that 72 percent of Hispanics considered “moral values issues” as either “extremely” or “very” important, while 87 percent felt similarly about homeland security.

Hispanics’ cultural conservatism is well established. On abortion, a plurality of Hispanics (45 percent in the Time survey) wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned, even as Roe maintains majority support (65 percent) among the population at large. Hispanics also oppose homosexuality and homosexual marriage. A 2002 Pew Hispanic Center and Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 72 percent of Hispanics said they felt homosexual sex between adults is “unacceptable,” compared to 59 percent for whites. Polls also routinely show much less support among Hispanics for same-sex “marriage.”

Republicans have a distinct advantage with Hispanics on national security, too. A 2004 pre-election survey of Hispanics revealed that 40 percent planned to vote for President Bush mainly because of his solid stance on national security issues.

Republican lawmakers must recognize that Hispanics are conservative in a fundamental way. In fact, it was on the strength of his conservative positions on values issues that George W. Bush doubled the Republican share of the Hispanic vote for president in just eight years. No small feat.

Clearly, reaching out to the burgeoning Hispanic electorate has become a matter of political necessity for Democrats and Republicans alike. Not only are Hispanics the fastest growing ethnic group in America, but they are, politically speaking, a relatively untapped resource — only 47 percent of eligible Hispanics voted in 2004, compared to 64 percent of the population at large.

But if, in attempting to capitalize on these powerful electoral realities, Republicans capitulate on amnesty, not only will they give their conservative base reason to stay home on Election Day, but they may alienate a growing constituency that shares those core conservative values of family, hard work, respect for the rule of law and patriotism.

Gary Bauer is president of American Values.

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