Prop. 187 hurt California's Republicans; amnesty could destroy the GOP

Republicans must move carefully on amnesty. Too far one way and they alienate their base; too far the other and Hispanics will repudiate them. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, January 1, 2014 — In the wake of the effort to create a comprehensive immigration plan, amnesty for illegal aliens is the next big item on the congressional agenda. House Republicans must now choose their fate.

California chose its fate 20 years ago, when it enacted legislation that ended Republican influence in the state. Until the time of Presidents Reagan and Nixon, California often elected Republicans to the state house and the White House. In the decades since former Governor Pete Wilson’s decision to sign Proposition 187, Democrats have consolidated their control of the state and now dominate California elections at the local, state and federal levels.

What damage did Prop. 187 do? Many political experts in California believe that that the state could have remained a two-party state had it not been for Prop. 187. Hispanic voters flocked heavily to the Democrats after Prop. 187, a significant factor in the conversion of California to a one-party state.

SEE RELATED: Illegal alien amnesty will not bring a happy new year

Proposition 187 denied public services to undocumented migrants and workers, even if their families were citizens. This was seen as a mean-spirited and racist attack on the Hispanic community. Hispanic voters had trended Democratic, but now their vote became overwhelmingly one-sided.

Conservatives who supported Prop. 187 had feared that doing nothing to make illegal immigration less attractive would promote an influx of immigrants and place a burden on state resouces. However, the harsh rhetoric from within the GOP was offensive to legal Hispanic residents and voters. Continuing that kind of rhetoric today could cause a repeat nationally of what happened in California. That would be the beginning of the end for Republicans.

Not all Republicans oppose a federal bill that responsibly welcomes immigrants. Many moderate and progressive Republicans consider the passage of an Amnesty bill as a smart strategic move for the GOP, though others disagree. However, bi-partisan legislation that manages immigration without being punitive could help Republicans’ message of inclusion.

Most Americans are still recovering from the “great recession,” and Republicans might think that a federal amnesty bill would be opposed by most people as a threat to the delicate recovery. Opposition to amnesty may carry a political advantage today, but if the GOP doesn’t craft a positive message rather than a negative one, it risks replicating the disaster of California. One-party Democratic rule would be far more catastrophic to the country than some compromises on immigration.

Republicans already knew this. Former RNC Chairman Ken Melhman argued correctly that Prop. 187 would destroy the GOP in California. He was the Paul Revere of his day; House Republicans today need another one to warn them about purely negative opposition to any form of amnesty.

As Republicans attempt to promote a positive message of hope for what this country could be if government were less involved, they should remember that leaving the fastest growing population — Hispanics — out of their message is dangerous. Republicans must not repeat past failures on immigration reform; they should consider supporting some form of amnesty. They should not just support a comprehensive immigration plan, but lead the charge, making it their own. It could just save the GOP’s existence.

SEE RELATED: GOP civil war: Obama and immigration

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