Littwin: Still stuck at ‘self deport’ |

Littwin: Still stuck at ‘self deport’

Mike Littwin
Mike Littwin

If you want to understand the brief life and painful death of the House Republican plan for immigration reform, you don’t have to travel all the way to Washington.

You can stay right here.

There’s no mystery. The answer is as plain as the writing on the ballot for the Colorado gubernatorial primary. Start with anti-immigration poster boy Tom Tancredo, and go straight to Scott Gessler, the secretary of state who has been a leader in the Republicans’ national limit-the-vote campaign, in which the goal is to make it harder for poor people and minorities (you know, likely Democrats) to vote. How do you fight the war in Washington to get reform when this is the army you have to work with?

In 2012, Latinos made up 13 percent of the voters in Colorado — a number that will only grow. And Barack Obama got 75 percent of that vote, a number that can only spell defeat here for Republicans.

Most Republican leaders understand the desperate need to get immigration off the table and to get themselves back in the game with Latino voters. It’s a matter of demographics, and it’s a matter of survival, and it’s a matter of right.

But they also know that, at least in the short term, it’s a lose-lose proposition. Even if reform were to win — which it would if Republicans allowed a full vote in the House — Obama would get credit for the win, and at the same time, certain self-defeating Republicans (you know who I’m talking about) would almost certainly beat themselves with the rhetorical remnants of a culture war we’ve been fighting for decades.

We know why John Boehner pushed the idea in the first place — legalization for the 11 million illegal immigrants but without citizenship for most — and we know why he withdrew it. Ted Cruz whispered the word “amnesty,” and the whole thing fell apart.

Of course it did. For many Republican House members, “amnesty” trumps “injustice,” and if xenophobia is not actually the vocabulary word of the day, you can’t be blamed for thinking it might be.

I don’t often agree with George Will. But he just wrote a piece saying that Republican refusal to embrace immigration reform signifies a lack of confidence in American culture and a basic misunderstanding of American history. (That’s paraphrasing, but I’m pretty sure I got it right.) He cited a bunch of numbers, but these two seemed especially significant: Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or by their children, and 35 percent of today’s adult illegal immigrants, those who supposedly refuse to assimilate, own their own homes.

As recently as 2012, Mitt Romney was ready to solve the illegal-immigration problem with self-deportation. He wasn’t joking, which was the problem. And meanwhile, we couldn’t get a Dream Act through Congress or through the state Legislature. The whole idea of sins of the fathers didn’t seem to resonate, which figured if the talk-radio boys were simultaneously obsessed with trying to change the meaning of the 14th Amendment so that so-called “anchor babies” couldn’t be citizens.

That was, like, last month. Or maybe this month. In the last gubernatorial race, Tancredo was talking “sanctuary cities” and all but accusing John Hickenlooper of being an accomplice to murder because a murderer didn’t get deported after a traffic stop. And in 2008, when Tancredo made his stop-the-immigration run for president — yes, he did — he spoke of the threat of violent immigrants who are “coming here to kill you and me and my grandchildren.” And this is the Tancredo, remember, who is the supposed GOP front-runner.

This is the world where border security is everything and where the immigration bill passed the Senate only after an extra $30 billion was allocated for more fences and for 20,000 more agents. That’s even though immigration from Mexico is barely a trickle these days when jobs here are scarce and drug cartels control much of the border.

But this argument is not so much about border security, which became an issue only after 9/11. It’s not really so much about illegal immigration, when the sainted Reagan himself signed the last so-called amnesty bill into law. What it is about is its place in the culture war that has played out for so many years that we can’t find a way to stop it.

The funniest, and saddest, part of Boehner’s decision not to pursue an immigration bill was how he ended it. He would blame — of course — Obama. But he blamed him for the oddest reason, saying that he didn’t trust him to enforce the laws. To Obama’s shame, 2 million people have been deported during his administration. But Boehner had to say something, and this had to be better than the truth.

Closer to the truth was that Republicans didn’t want this fight to distract from their nonstop barrage of criticism of Obamacare. In which case, there was dire news Wednesday from Washington. In January, nearly 1.2 million people signed up for the exchanges. That was the first month in which Obamacare had reached its target numbers. What happens if Obamacare works? What do Republicans do in November then?

Here’s a possibility for Colorado: They prepare to watch another 70 percent of the Latino vote go to Democrats. And they remember that, perhaps not coincidentally, Republicans haven’t won a top-of-the-ballot race here since 2004.

Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for

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