It is no secret that the vast majority of Hispanics voted in favor of President Obama this past November, and many believe that the support of this numerically influential demographic is one of the more important reasons that Obama was reelected. During the months leading up to the election, it almost seemed as if the Republican Party was disregarding the Latino population entirely – Governor Romney offered no real response to pleas for a comprehensive immigration reform, and even advocated for what he called “self-deportation,” a concept which (understandably) alienated many Latino voters, immigrants and non-immigrants alike.
Former President George W. Bush spoke at the 4 Percent Growth Project, a conference on immigration and economic growth, just yesterday in Dallas, Texas, accorded to an article published online by the Dallas Morning News. Despite the extremely conservative views regarding immigration that the Republican Party has been associated with as of late, President Bush spoke highly of the immigrant presence in the United States and encouraged those in power to discuss the topic with “a benevolent spirit.” He repeatedly emphasized the contributions that immigrants have made to this country, specifically how they “fill a critical labor gap in our market.” However, Bush didn’t rely on typically Republican economic arguments to support his case for immigrants – he also brought up a few ethical points. Apparently, Bush truly believes that many immigrants deserve to be here – he describes immigrants he has met as a result of living in a state that borders Mexico, and according to Bush, many of these immigrants go to church, love their families, and work very hard to support their children. In this vein, he has chosen to publicly voice his support of them.
However, this argument is interesting for a few reasons. Hardly anyone (except nativists) ever argues against the presence of immigrants in general in this country. A vast majority of American were originally descendants of immigrants themselves, and even the most conservative Republicans don’t object to the idea of immigrants that are in this country legally. (Romney himself is the child of immigrants.)
Although it is very admirable that Bush acknowledged immigration reform to be one of his greatest failures while in office, Bush was exceedingly vague in his discussion of immigration at the conference; he pushed for no specific policy. He didn’t say what he would have done had he had the chance, or what he would do if he were Obama. He didn’t urge lawmakers to consider amnesty, extension of deferred action, or any plan that would benefit undocumented immigrants. Although his intentions are unclear, it’s possible that his speech will lend a more positive light to the Republican party in the eyes of the Hispanic voters. It might even encourage Republicans in office to adopt a less conservative stance towards immigrants. Undoubtedly, this was a good move on the part of Bush and the Republican Party, strategic or not, and it may help swing Latino support in their favor if they are able to carry on this positive view of immigration.