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Who owns immigration policy on the right?

Agents patrol Texas border to stop illegal immigrants
Agents patrol Texas border to stop illegal immigrants
Scott Olson/Getty Images

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It’s one of the most contentious issues out there, and the rift isn’t just between Democrats and Republicans.

Even within the GOP itself exists a spectrum from conservative to progressive regarding immigration reform. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s immigration enforcement law highlighted this problem for the party, as it placed more pressure on Congress to come up with a unified plan regarding how to handle the situation.

Some Republicans, speaking to the GOP base, are absolutely opposed to any form of illegal immigration and believe that those who are here illegally should be sent home and not allowed to work.

On the opposing side, some don’t wish to come across as so virulently anti-immigrant, especially since many illegal immigrants are Hispanic, which also happens to be one of the most coveted voting demographics, specifically in a presidential election. George W. Bush captured enough of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and 2004 to push him over the top, something John McCain failed to do in 2008.

Mitt Romney, who needs a sizable portion of Hispanic voters to choose him over Barack Obama, has struck a somewhat moderate stance on immigration. He wants to put an end to illegal immigration and is completely opposed to amnesty, stressing his policy of an employee verification system to assure all American workers are of legal status and an end to any federal or state benefits to illegal immigrants.

Congressman Brian Bilbray (CA-50) and Chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, supports establishing a guest worker system and the use of an employee verification system.

Bilbray argued such systems benefit both the worker, who can maintain a family life in their home country and a higher standard of living through legal employment, and the business who can hire migrant labor without risking breaking the law.

“The biggest issue is how do you create an environment that defends our foundation of freedom of prosperity, the enforcement of law but create a system that allows those workers in ag and dairy to visit the country, be able to make a decent living without coming in and undercutting the fair labor price for a lot of laborers,” he said.

Bilbray pointed to what he believed was the biggest roadblock in comprehensive immigration reform of any kind: businesses continually benefiting from undocumented labor without any significant consequences.

“There is a hidden agenda within both sides of the party that has a vested interest in not seeing the immigration issue addressed appropriately,” he explained. “Before we can even discuss those who are illegally present now, we’ve got to discuss [the question]: Are we willing to do the minimum of telling employers we’re going to stop giving them tax deductions when they’re employing illegals?”

Attorney and executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, Alfonso Aguilar has worked extensively in immigration policy. Like Bilbray, he believes there does need to be a guest worker program established.

“In our economy there are certain industries, like agriculture and construction, that need foreign workers,” Aguilar explained. “We are a rule-of-law country but we have to understand our immigration system is broken, dysfunctional, and encourages illegality because we have a labor market that needs foreign workers and we don’t have an effective work visa programs so they’re coming illegally.”

He argued that the challenge the GOP faced was within its own Party: “The issue of immigration within the GOP has been hijacked since 2006 by a minority of restrictionists who I don’t believe represent the Party.”

Aguilar continued, saying, “More and more we’re starting to see the majority of conservatives, a majority of Republicans saying, ‘You know, enough listening to this restrictionist minority -- we’re the party of the family, we’re the party of the free market, we’re going to stand up, reclaim this issue and go back to the principles outlined by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.”

Weigh In:

How can Republicans effectively come to terms with the prevailing disparate views on immigration within their own party? How can they do so while also combating the message on the Democratic side? Is Romney’s plan a happy marriage of the two? Why or why not?


Congressman Brian Bilbray, (CA-50) Chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus

Alfonso Aguilar, Executive Director, Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles; Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003, Alfonso Aguilar was the first Chief of the Office of Citizenship within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Attorney with the law offices of James G. Roche, offices throughout the U.S. including L.A. and Orange county.