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America already admits 1 million legal immigrants every year, far more than any other nation. That generosity should continue. But in writing our immigration laws, we should put the interests of American workers and taxpayers first.
Others want to put illegal immigrants and foreign workers first. They seize on two numbers to club opponents into submission — 27 percent and 11 million. Both figures are used in deceptive ways.
In running for president, Mitt Romney received about 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. During the past three decades, the average for Republican candidates has been 30 percent. (Bob Dole garnered 21 percent in 1996.)
The 27 percent is often compared unfavorably to the 40 percent George W. Bush won, according to one poll in 2004. Other surveys found Bush closer to 32 percent. Furthermore, Bush outspent John Kerry in 2004 on Spanish-language media while Barack Obama outspent Romney in 2012 by 12-to-1! It’s a wonder Romney took 27 percent.
Another fact is that Romney attracted far more support from middle-class Hispanics. Romney garnered only 17 percent of Hispanic voters with an income of less than $50,000 a year but 39 percent among Hispanics with an income of $50,000 or more. (The average income of an illegal immigrant household is $35,000 to $38,000.) The obvious message to Republicans is to help Hispanics join the middle class.
Republicans can and must appeal to Hispanic voters, but we should start with the facts, not fiction, before deciding on the best way forward.
A 2012 Pew Hispanic Center poll found that immigration ranks below the economy, jobs, and health care for Hispanic voters. So the way forward is clear — emphasize the need for educational opportunities for young Hispanics and the need for more and better jobs for adults.
As for Democrats claiming that Republicans must endorse legalization for the millions of people in the country illegally, we know their real motive from their own words. Here is a statement from the director of the TransBorder Project: “The legalization of 11 million new immigrants would likely cement the Democrat party’s position as the majority party for decades to come.”
Illegal immigration will always exist, regardless of what immigration bill is enacted. Some immigrants will not want to wait in line, others will work illegally and still others will use fraudulent documents. Legalizing everyone in the country will not solve the problem; rather, it will encourage more illegal immigration.
Also, legalization would enable illegal immigrants to work in the United States. The increase in competition would harm employment prospects and depress the wages of American workers, as a recent Center for Immigration Studies report shows.
Some politicians say immigration is a “gateway” issue that must be resolved before Hispanic voters will listen to Republicans. Well, yes, if Republicans keep talking about immigration to the exclusion of other subjects.
That is exactly what Democrats want Republicans to do — keep playing on their turf. Republicans should refuse to be lured into the trap and instead address issues more important to Hispanics.
Republicans can splinter the clubs of 27 percent and 11 million if they stick to the facts, pick the right issues and go on the offense.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is the former Judiciary chairman, and he serves on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.