Republicans rediscover the virtues of immigration reform

Sen. Marco Rubio, shown in a file photo, was one of four Republican senators to sign onto a bipartisan immigration overhaul proposal Monday along with four Democratic senators.
(Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press)

In my Sunday column, I suggested that Republicans in Congress have begun to evolve in a more pragmatic, less ideological direction after their losses in last year’s election. As evidence, I noted that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) backed off last week from a threatened showdown with President Obama over the federal government’s debt ceiling.

Today brings another sign that the GOP is determined to change its image, at least on some issues: the bipartisan agreement among eight senators on basic principles for comprehensive immigration reform.

Only a year ago, Republican presidential hopefuls were competing to show how tough on immigration they could be. Mitt Romney won that dubious contest by denouncing the Dream Act, which would have provided legal status for some children of illegal immigrants, and calling for tough policies that would induce immigrants to “self-deport.”


Poor Gov. Romney: After his defeat, his own party has suddenly concluded that sounding hostile toward immigrants is bad politics, especially when Latinos and Asians constitute a growing part of the electorate. Who knew?

There’s still plenty of opposition among GOP voters to increased immigration in general and any reform that smacks of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants in particular. It won’t be easy getting comprehensive immigration reform through the conservative-majority House.

That’s why the most significant names speaking out in favor of immigration reform this week aren’t President Obama, who will unveil his proposal Tuesday, or any of the many Democrats who endorsed the Senate plan.

They are Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a tea party hero who tried vainly last year to persuade Romney to adopt a more moderate stance, and Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), Romney’s thoroughly conservative running mate.

Rubio was the most conservative of the four Republican senators who signed onto Monday’s bipartisan proposal. The others – John S. McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) – are considered mavericks in their party.

Ryan’s support may be even more important, since it gives immigration reform a conservative champion in the House – and one who isn’t a Cuban American from Florida, as Rubio is .

“Look, immigration is a good thing,” Ryan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “We’re here because of immigration. That’s what America is, it’s a melting pot. We think this is good. We need to make sure that it works.”

“It’s a system that’s broken that needs fixing,” he said.

“There are a lot Democrats in Congress who, once and for all, want to solve this problem, fix this mess, a broken immigration system, and many of us agree with that,” he said. “So, hopefully, we can actually get this done.”

He might just be right.


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