When it comes to immigration, the Republican presidential field has a secret. While Donald Trump stole headlines with his inflammatory comments on undocumented immigrants (accusing them of “bringing crime” and of being “rapists”), the uncomfortable truth — when you put aside rhetoric and look at policy — is that virtually every single one of the Republican candidates for president shares Trump’s unyielding opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.
First, it’s important to acknowledge that several Republican candidates are openly embracing Trump’s shameful comments. Ben Carson argued that criticism of Trump is just “politically correct” activists trying to send a message. On “Meet the Press,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, defended Trump saying, “I salute him,” and accusing the media of trying to encourage, “Republicans to attack other Republicans.”
But even for those few GOP candidates who criticized Trump’s words, their protests ring hollow. Their implied opposition to comprehensive immigration reform is the real message Latinos should pick up. As Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton put it, every single Republican candidate for president ranges on a “spectrum of [ . . . ] hostility” on the issue of immigration.
Here is a rundown of where the GOP field stands. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., disavowed his own comprehensive immigration reform bill and now says tackling this challenge head-on is “not realistic.” Jeb Bush suddenly abandoned his earlier support of a pathway to citizenship in 2013, one of the most glaring flip-flops in the entire GOP, in an effort to appeal to his party’s conservative base. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker now opposes the pathway to citizenship he once favored. Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry? All cut from the same cloth — all oppose meaningful, comprehensive reform.
Most Americans agree with me that knee-jerk opposition by Republicans to comprehensive immigration reform is bad for the country. After all, what’s the point of having more than a dozen candidates seek the GOP nomination when they all hold the same reactionary position? That’s not the debate America needs, it’s just an echo chamber where Trump is making all the noise and leading the debate.
Now, unlike their Republican counterparts, Clinton and the rest of the democratic field explicitly support a full pathway to citizenship. They believe in critical initiatives such as the DREAM Act, which would allow children of undocumented immigrants to pursue education and public service careers inside the United States, and expanded job training for people with limited English proficiency.
I recently had the opportunity to hear directly from Clinton as she addressed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. I know she spoke for a lot of Americans when she talked about the social and economic benefits of bringing millions of hardworking people out of the shadows through comprehensive immigration reform. Our nation’s gross domestic product alone would increase by an estimated $700 billion over 10 years. She, and the rest of the Democratic presidential candidates, gets it.
Now you may be thinking my argument is biased — but, it’s not because I am a Democrat.
This debate is personal for me because I am the daughter of Mexican immigrants. My parents love this country. They immigrated to the United States to contribute their talents and open doors of opportunity for their children. It’s the story shared by millions of families who left everything behind in search of a better life.
The upcoming presidential election will have historic consequences for the fight towards meaningful, fair-minded, comprehensive immigration reform. It’s incumbent on Republicans to step up if they want to be part of the debate. Forgive me if I’m not optimistic when half of the GOP field openly endorses Trump’s comments and the rest are not as different from Trump as they’d like you to believe.
One thing is certain: Lack of action by the GOP field will speak volumes to the Latino community.
And it will reflect at the ballot box.
Rep. Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., serves as the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.