Why Does Immigration Reform Have Republican Candidates on Both Sides of the Fence?
After President Barack Obama's victory in the 2012 Presidential Election, exit polls revealed a shocking discrepancy between the number of Hispanic voters that supported the Democratic nominee versus his Republican counterpart, Mitt Romney. Following these reports, the Republican Party finally seemed convinced their future success and winning the 2016 Presidential Election would require a major shift in the party's stance on immigration reform in order to avoid alienating Hispanic voters.
In recent months, the frontrunners of the Republican presidential nomination have started to battle amongst themselves, each vying to be their party's nominee in 2016. Despite immigration reform remaining a major political and social issue since the 2012 Election, the stance of the Republican candidates remains unclear at best.
Senator Marco Rubio, a frontrunner with the chance to become the United States' first Hispanic President, is trying to rally Latino voters behind him, even brushing up on his Spanish and appearing on Spanish-language television stations since announcing his campaign. One might assume Rubio's strategy would include policies that Hispanic voters widely support. However, in a recent interview with Fox News, Rubio stated that border security should be the focus before any immigration reform takes place. The contradictions don't stop there. In 2013, Rubio and seven other senators proposed an immigration reform bill, only for the bill to be rejected by congress after Rubio publicly refused to support and even opposed his own bill.
Former Governor Jeb Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush, has also consistently shifted his position on immigration reform. Prior to 2009, Bush strongly supported the deportation of undocumented immigrants. Since 2009 his views have flipped between support for granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants, to explicitly opposing the granting of citizenship, calling it an "undeserving reward," to now supporting the granting of "legal residency" to undocumented immigrants, but not citizenship.
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey supported some immigration reform within his own state in 2014, allowing undocumented immigrants to attend and pay in-state tuition for colleges. Although this would seem to indicate Christie supports immigration reform on a national level, it is unclear to what extent. In 2010, Christie expressed support for reforms to current immigration laws to make citizenship more obtainable for undocumented immigrants within the United States. However in a recent interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly, Christie backtracked from this view, stating that providing citizenship to undocumented immigrants is an "extreme way to go" and offered little clarity on what alternative reforms he does support.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has seen his popularity sore in recent years by distinguishing himself from other Republicans with his libertarian views. However, his stance on immigration reform, like other Republican frontrunners, is vague and premised on the belief that border security should precede any actual reform to immigration laws. Paul verbally has expressed support for reforms; however, in 2013 he voted against a bill providing immigration reform because he felt the bill did not do enough to increase border security. This was despite the fact the bill contained provisions that would result in more fences being built along the border and would double the number of border patrol agents.
Governor Scott Walker may be a fresh face, but he is more of the same. He originally supported granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants, only to later change his mind. He currently believes all undocumented immigrants should have to return to their countries and legally apply to re-enter the U.S., while simultaneously wanting to make it more difficult for immigrants to enter the U.S. legally.
The reason Republican Presidential frontrunners will not provide any clarity on their stance on immigration reform is clear. Whichever candidate hopes to become the Republican nominee will first have to win the Republican Primary Election. The only way this occurs, is with the support of the conservative Republican base, which happens to believe border security is the priority, rather than addressing the legal minefield the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States must face.
These candidates also know whoever wins the Republican nomination will immediately face a democratic candidate that supports immigration reform.
As the 2012 election revealed, whoever becomes the Republican nominee will likely not be elected President without support from Hispanic voters. Don't be surprised when the winner of the Republican nomination suddenly becomes a champion of immigration reform once they face a democrat.