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Rubio versus immigration obstruction

By Randy Schultz
Palm Beach Post

Opponents of immigration reform know that they need Republicans to block it. But politics and the research are running against them. So the opponents are getting desperate.

Because Republicans performed badly with Hispanic voters, GOP operatives argue that the party needs to back an immigration bill or face decades of defeat nationally and in states such as Florida that are home to the emerging electorate.

GOP leaders responded by making Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of eight senators crafting the immigration bill that some critics falsely call “amnesty” because it would allow illegal immigrants to gain citizenship after many years and after satisfying several conditions. It can’t be “amnesty” if conditions are attached.

Even House Republicans, among whom anti-reform sentiment runs high, have produced their version of immigration reform. So last week came a new ploy from the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-reform think tank.

Hispanic voters are the new swing bloc? No way, the center claims. Republicans got cleaned in November because white voters stayed home, especially white voters who don’t have a college degree. Center for Immigration Studies Director of Research Steven Camarota said in a news release:

“As Republicans think about how they can expand their voter base, the new data suggest that one of their biggest problems in the last presidential election was that so many less-educated whites sat (sic) home. These voters, who have been hit hard by the recession, have traditionally supported Republicans. It seems likely that by supporting the Schumer-Rubio amnesty, GOP legislators would further alienate these voters.”

The center offers a four-part scenario under which Mitt Romney could have won. One is Mr. Romney increasing his share of the black vote by 15 percentage points. Sure. Another is Mr. (“self-deportation”) Romney getting 50 percent of the Latino vote, not 27 percent. Sure. More to the point, this scenario focuses on national numbers, not state-by-state votes. Except for Arizona, President Barack Obama won all of the swing states where Hispanic voters are a factor.

Notice also that Mr. Camarota referred to “Schumer-Rubio amnesty.” He could have linked Sen. Rubio with any of the four Democrats in the “Gang of Eight” on immigration, but he chose the most visible, outspoken liberal, Chuck Schumer of New York.

Sen. Rubio, though, is ignoring the obstructionists. After the Senate Judiciary Committee’s 13-5 vote in favor of the immigration reform bill two weeks ago, he pronounced the legislation “stronger” because of nine amendments. All deal with border security and jobs, the two points of attack for opponents.

If “amnesty” is one myth about the immigration bill, another is that granting legal status and eventually citizenship – however delayed – to illegal immigrants would cost the government. A new report may debunk that myth.

A Harvard Medical School study of Medicare from 2002 to 2009 found that immigrants were a net surplus to the program, not a drain. Obviously, there’s no way to determine the impact just of illegal immigrants. But as Leighton Ku, director of the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University, told The New York Times, “Without immigrants, the Medicare trust fund would be in trouble sooner.”

Consider the potential benefit to legalizing those who are here illegally but in practical terms are residents. They are not just Mexicans who came to pick crops, but many are Hispanic, and Hispanics are younger than the native-born white population. With Medicare and Social Security, too few workers are supporting too many retirees.

A rush of new young contributors would correct that imbalance. Further rebalancing will come when my fellow Baby Boomers and I die off. The Baby Boom officially ended in 1964, but the U.S. birth rate peaked in 1953 and has been declining ever since. It’s almost half of what it was 60 years ago.

Sen. Rubio faces a political dilemma: If he wants to run for president, he can’t win without supporting immigration reform, but he may lose the GOP nomination if he does.

But done right, immigration reform works politically and morally. The obstructionists can’t get around that reality.

Randy Schultz is editor of the editorial page of The Palm Beach Post.
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