Michael Gerson on Immigration Reform

The former Bush speechwriter carves out the conservative case for reform

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Immigration may not dominate discussion now, but it will soon. President Obama and other key Democrats have promised deep immigration reform, a push expected to come next year. When that happens, pundits are likely to entrench in certain ideological positions, much as they have now with health care and Afghanistan. Michael Gerson, who no doubt remembered the fierce partisanship surrounding past immigration debates, took to the issue early to carve out a new position. Gerson, the former Bush speechwriter responsible for "Axis of Evil," makes the conservative case for open borders:

Catholics and evangelicals, who have been central to the Republican coalition, cannot ultimately accept a message of resentment against foreigners. Their faith will not allow it.

In considering illegal immigration, many talk appropriately about the rule of law. But there is also the imago dei -- the shared image of God -- that does not permit individual worth and dignity to be sorted by national origin. This commitment does not translate simplistically into open borders and amnesty. It does mean, however, that immigrants should not be used as objects of organized anger or singled out for prejudice and harm. If Republicans head down this dreary path, many could no longer follow.

Gerson explains why the GOP must include immigrant and Latino voters in a serious way beyond simply getting their votes:

Some conservatives dismiss electoral considerations as soiled and cynical. They will make their case, even if that means sacrificing Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and . . . Indiana. Yes, Indiana, which had supported Republican presidential candidates for 40 years before Obama captured it on the strength of Hispanic votes. This is a good definition of extremism -- the assumption that irrelevance is evidence of integrity. In fact, it is a moral achievement of democracy that it eventually forces political parties to appeal to minorities and outsiders instead of demonizing them. The scramble for votes, in the long run, requires inclusion.

By 2030, the Latino share of the vote in America is likely to double. Some Republicans seem to be calculating that this influence can be countered by running up their percentage of support among white voters. But this is not eventually realistic, because non-college-educated whites are declining as a portion of the electorate. And it is disturbing in any case to set the goal of a whiter Republican Party.

In the next year, as immigration goes from background issue to center stage, there's little question that most liberals will line up in support of reform while conservatives will repeat Bush-era calls for air-tight borders. But if Gerson succeeds in formulating a way for conservatives to support reform, the former speechwriter will have fundamentally reshaped the debate.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.