Opinion: The GOP Needs to Evolve on Immigration - I Did

One of the reasons that Florida’s former governor Jeb Bush has been so reluctant to endorse Mitt Romney, claims The New York Times, is Romney’s hard line on illegal immigration.

The Republican primaries have showcased the GOP’s tortured stance on this issue. From Newt Gingrich’s plan to set up countless local immigration boards to Romney’s claim that illegal immigrants might just “self-deport” and save us all the trouble, Republican candidates have found it hard to appeal to Latinos when their conservative base wants a Berlin Wall on the Mexican border and 10 million people deported.

I used to be one of those people. It used to bother me that some foreigners came here, never bothered to learn English or to assimilate and then proceeded to use our public services for free.

That still bothers me, to be honest.

But Republicans have to be practical. There’d be no support for deportation after one shot of grandma being hauled off a police car ran in The New York Times.

If we want to at least be competitive for the Latino vote, it makes more sense to highlight immigrants’ contributions. Countless small businesses are immigrant-owned. And millions of illegal immigrants have paid income tax according to the IRS. The GOP should talk more about that kind of entrepreneurship and acknowledge illegal immigrants who manage to hold down jobs and contribute to Uncle Sam.

We should also talk more about what we can learn from immigrants, both legal and not. In Europe, for instance, a lot of kids grow up speaking both English and their native languages. American kids, on the other hand, take language classes but are almost never bilingual. Our fixation on English has made our kids less competitive in the global market. That’s a failure of the Education Department – and a potential election issue.

In short, Republicans should stop attacking the “tired, poor, huddled masses” and focus on immigration reform.

I know someone who swam the Rio Grande naked at age 12 to make it to Texas, BTW. He went on to be a Fulbright scholar.