A Roadmap on Immigration for 2012

Before I spell out what should be the Republican approach to the immigration issue, let me make perfectly clear what's wrong with the current approach.

It’s not that Republicans are tough on illegal immigration (if it doesn’t involve being tough on employers), or that they value the rule of law (except for wanting to change the 14th Amendment to eliminate birthright citizenship), or that they care about border security (as long as it’s the southern border), or that they care about American workers (as long as they’re not trying to weaken labor unions in states like Wisconsin).

It’s that Republicans can’t seem to talk about the immigration issue in a candid and honest way that eschews racism, acknowledges labor needs, and holds everyone accountable. The message is bad, and the tone is worse. It’s always us vs them, with Latinos on the “them” side.

The GOP needs a cleansing on the immigration issue. To get it going, any Republican running for president next year should:

(1) talk about how it’s unfair for illegal immigrants to jump the line when others have had to play by the rules and wait their turn;

(2) admit that Americans won’t do the jobs that illegal immigrants do at any price, and explain that this is why we need a guest worker program;

(3) stress that some of the estimated 10.3 million illegal immigrants in the United States should have a pathway to earned legal status if they meet conditions, including returning to their home country to be processed for legal reentry;

(4) call for harsh penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and make sure they’re enforced since we’ll never fix this problem unless we attack it at the roots;

(5) promise a complete overhaul of the system by which immigrants can legally migrate to the United States so we can bring in more of them through the front door and do it a lot quicker than we do now; and

(6) condemn in no uncertain terms the racism and nativism that poison this debate and threaten to make the Republican Party obsolete before the end of the century.

This is the only roadmap for 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls to survive the pitfalls of the immigration debate. Every other path leads to the political margins and to eventual defeat.