Sorting out and integrating millions of illegal aliens is no easy matter, too long delayed, but John Boehner and Ted Cruz are taking off the masks that Republicans donned after losing the White House in 2012 largely because of the minority vote.
Shackled by his right-wing caucus, the House Speaker is having trouble selling members even a narrow punitive path to citizenship he has outlined, while Cruz wants the Senate to turn away from the issue altogether until after the November elections.
Those of us who grew up on “God Bless America” (written by a Jewish immigrant) can barely recognize a nation of people whose forebears came here in the last century or the one before to escape tyranny and make a better life for their children.
In its details and implementation, immigration reform is a massive undertaking but not for a nation built on the principle of freedom and opportunity for all, even though it took a Civil War and a post-World War II outpouring of protest to move forward to the point of having an African-American president.
What is most troubling is the meanness of today’s debate. After demonizing Barack Obama for five years with undisguised racism, the GOP Right can’t bring itself, even in the face of its self-interest at the ballot box, to honor the tradition of inclusiveness that built America.
Boehner’s plan wants Latinos to pay fines and back taxes, submit to criminal checks, study civics and go through other mea culpas before even being considered for citizenship, but even all that is not enough to overcome the barrier of racism for some of his members.
As usual, all this will be seen through the prism of getting and holding political power but, even by that standard, the Republican resistance to a start on immigration reform is senseless. Yet for a party that was making the likes of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum front runners for the White House four years ago, anything is possible.
As the GOP struggles with the issue, Boehner may want to think about his German “barkeep” father’s immigration and Cruz about his family who had to move to Canada to escape Castro tyranny even more recently before settling in Texas.
Yes, they played by the rules, but those old rules can’t deal with millions who came here not only for their own freedom but to provide cheap labor for America’s sacred free enterprise. The principles haven’t changed, even though the skin color has.