Immigration policy took center stage this morning at American Principles in Action’s Conservative Immigration Forum, where various conservative leaders gathered to lend their opinions to a growing conversation. However, in contrast to voices that have in recent days called for a restrictive approach, speakers at APIA’s event focused on the many ways immigration positively impacts the United States and how our nation’s immigration laws can be constructively reformed in order to both solve current problems and ensure that this country continues to be a welcoming place for those seeking freedom and opportunity.
One proposal on how to do this was presented by Alfonso Aguilar, a regular contributor to The Pulse and the executive director of APIA’s Latino Partnership. Aguilar’s five step plan included measures which would both help bolster enforcement of immigration law (by securing the border, improving workplace enforcement, and implementing an entry/exit registry) as well as provide opportunities for immigrant workers who fill an important role in the American economy (by creating a market-based guest worker program and providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants). His remarks drove home the point that the false dichotomy of amnesty versus self-deportation must be transcended:
[T]his is a false choice. There is a third way, a conservative way to approach immigration that is based on the rule of law, but also on the realization that immigration is good for the country and for our economy; and that the market is better equipped than the government to regulate migration flows into the country.
Conservatives should stop listening to today’s nativist naysayers who apparently don’t believe in America’s exceptional ability to welcome and assimilate people from every corner of the world. The question Republicans and conservatives need to ask themselves is whether we, out of fear, are going to go back to the protectionist responses of the past, of the Republican Party of Herbert Hoover, that led to trade barriers and tight labor markets, or are we going to embrace Ronald Reagan’s belief in America as an open and free economy that thrives thanks to the contributions of immigrants. Are we going to be the party of Reagan or the party of Hoover?
Other conservative leaders joined Aguilar in calling on Congress to tackle the immigration issue in an intelligent way. The Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh made a compelling case for why immigrants are a boon, not a hindrance, to the American economy. Lila Rose, president of the pro-life group Live Action, explained how our broken immigration system provides advantages to the abortion and sex trafficking industries, who use it to harm many women and their unborn children. And Niger Innis, executive director of TheTeaParty.net, dispelled the notion that the Tea Party is opposed to immigration reform and underscored the importance of conservative policymakers addressing the issue.
As it so happens, two of those policymakers were also in attendance. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) both took time to discuss their work on immigration, and both agreed that it ought to be a high priority issue for the new Republican Congress. Although they said President Obama’s politically motivated executive actions had impeded progress toward reform, they also noted optimistically that headway is still being made on a piecemeal approach. Congressman Labrador, in particular, said that his office was working on a number of different immigration bills which he planned to release sometime later this year.
While much media attention as of late has been focused on more radical proposals, such as calls for a special path to citizenship or arguments for a 25 percent reduction in legal immigration, the debate need not be defined by these extremes. As evidenced by APIA’s forum, many conservative leaders are working to enact immigration reform which addresses the realities on the ground: both the need for better enforcement as well as the important contributions immigrants make to our country. Hopefully, today’s forum will mark the beginning of a fruitful conversation which will drive the debate in 2016 and beyond.
Paul Dupont is a legislative assistant for American Principles in Action.