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Macro Must Trump Micro for Republicans on Immigration

06/11/2013 09:48 am ET | Updated Aug 11, 2013

An internal battle is brewing amongst Republicans on immigration that is about to come to a head as the Senate immigration bill moves onto the floor. This can be best understood as a conflict between micro and macro perspectives on the issue. The fates of immigration reform this year and the Republican Party for years to come hang in the balance.

Micro View - A position driven by on-the-ground conversations between individual Republican members of Congress (mostly white middle-aged men) and the constituents that form the base of their support (mostly white middle-aged men).

Their rallying cries are:

• "Let's secure the border first, then we may have the confidence to go further"
• "It will cost a fortune."
• "I oppose amnesty."
• "They will all vote for Democrats."

Many Republicans first elected to Congress in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles have adopted the micro view.

It would be inaccurate to use the recent vote to defund President Obama's attempt to implement the Dream Act by executive order as a proxy for those who support this view. That vote should be seen as a reminder to Obama that our Constitution created a republic not a monarchy. Rep. Raul Labrador's, R-Idaho, departure from the House Gang of Eight immigration working group exemplifies the difficulty of separating from this view.

Macro View - A position driven by a survey of both demographic trends and the core beliefs of new entrants to our workforce.

The views of those who take a macro view are often expressed as:

• "A comprehensive bill will add to the already significant investments we have made in recent years to border security and employer verification of legal residency, allowing us to finally achieve a long sought goal."
• "It will increase America's fortune as new energetic and innovative workers create expanded opportunities for all Americans."
• "A path to citizenship yes, but only after paying back taxes and going to the back of the line - any other approach sustains the shadow economy that destabilizes our country."
• "Newly eligible citizens might vote mostly for Democrats, but Republican values can attract a significant enough segment of Asian and Hispanic populations if Republicans make their case in a welcoming manner."

Those Republicans that take a longer view and a national perspective, looking at more than just their own 2014 campaign, generally embrace the macro view. The transformational path that Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, has traveled on this issue from skeptic to supporter exemplifies them. Together with Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., he is leading comprehensive bill efforts for Republicans. On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Kelly Ayotte's, R-N.H., endorsement of the Senate's comprehensive bill suggests this view is gaining ground.

For the hopes of those who embrace the macro view to come true, Republicans will need to win a string of tactical battles on the path to a balanced comprehensive bill. To achieve these victories, Republicans must focus on what kind of comprehensive bill they want, not whether they want a comprehensive bill.

Key elements will include:

• What measures will be taken to strengthen the border and who affirms the border is secure?
• Will the employer verification system be able to achieve its aims?
• What steps must be taken to earn citizenship?
• Will the bill take a growth vs. reunification focus?
• How do we ensure immigrants are focused on work opportunities rather than access to social benefits?
• How many agricultural and high-skilled workers will be allowed?
• How do we ensure it is only those that have achieved citizenship vote?
• What steps will be taken to ensure assimilation?
There are plenty of issues that remain to tussle over, even if you embrace a macro view.

We know how a micro approach ends. Victory belongs in many ways to those who show up. You must be present to win. Increasingly, those who are showing up to drive our economy, fight our wars, and vote are ethnically diverse. If Republicans do not give them a reason to support the GOP's cause, they will be destined to decades of anemic electoral results or even worse -- sliding out of the newspapers and into the history books like the Federalist or Whig parties.

The future dynamism of the Republican Party rests on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, eventually getting a majority of House Republican Conference to support a comprehensive immigration bill to reconcile with the Democratic Party controlled Senate's bill in a conference committee.

The future of America's leadership position in the world rests on a comprehensive bill becoming law. That is why the macro view must prevail.

Hon. Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).