08/05/2010 12:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Whatever Happened to Principles

The news that Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, once the leading Senate Republican advocates for comprehensive immigration reform, are joining with Senate Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl in support of repealing birthright citizenship, led me to conclude that Michael Gerson is absolutely right: that with some notable exceptions, such as Hispanic Republicans in Congress, Congressman Connie Mack, and former Governor Jeb Bush, the Grand Old Party has either taken leave either of its senses or of its principles.

Just last month at NCLR's Annual Conference in San Antonio, I spoke about growing anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric, an issue that we have tracked for the past several years. This speech focused on a troubling trend in the 2010 campaign, particularly among Republican candidates, who have expressed appalling desire to micro-chip immigrants like dogs and put landmines and electric fences along the border. Our Conference attendees were outraged by this and, most of all, by Arizona's latest gambit, SB 1070, which would have legalized and legitimized racial profiling and jeopardized the civil rights of millions of citizens and legal residents had a federal judge not issued a temporary hold on the law last week.

NCLR is a nonpartisan organization with a solid track record of working with a bipartisan array of lawmakers because we believe that it is essential to the Latino community's best interests to participate in, and be courted by, both parties. In fact, we have honored both Senator Graham and Senator McCain for their previous work on immigration and other issues affecting Latinos. In that spirit, I called on the Republican Party's leadership to denounce such rhetoric and actions--this would be both the right thing and the smart thing to do.

It's right since the party has had a long history of constructive and enlightened views on both the immigration issue and the Hispanic community which they are putting at grave risk. President Ronald Reagan spoke eloquently about the contributions and sacrifices that Latinos have made to this great nation, and he believed there was a place for the community in the Republican Party. He also received more than 40% of the Hispanic vote. Today, many are seeking to embody the Reagan legacy, but anyone who tries to claim the mantle of the Reagan legacy ought to live up to the totality of that legacy.

It's also smart since alienating 50 million Americans and ten million or so voters (and growing) could marginalize the party for generations to come, especially in key battleground states. Yet Republican leadership has instead embraced one of the most draconian proposals out there and allowed the extreme views of few to become the mainstream view that defines their party.

I will leave it to the historians and legal scholars to explain how incredibly irrational and ill-conceived repealing birthright citizenship is. But if it really is just a matter of trying to whip up the Republican Party's base by playing to anti-Latino and immigrant sentiment, it calls into question their principles. It is unconscionable that they are using human scapegoats to bolster their political fortunes and also willing to sacrifice one of the most revered and hard-fought amendments to the Constitution to score cheap political points.

We also have to question their judgment. Latinos are the fastest-growing group of voters in the country. More than ten million voted in 2008. Eight million more are eligible to vote but not yet registered. Our partner Democracia U.S.A. has estimated that 500,000 Latino citizens and potential voters will turn 18 every year for the next 20 years.

There is no doubt that as citizens and as voters, we will remember the discrimination, the harassment, and the demonization. Our children, and our children's children, will remember the people who tried to criminalize our families and tried to take away our birthright as Americans. And we will also remember who did nothing to stop it. Most of all, Latinos will remember who stood with us, and who did not. The choice is yours, Republican leaders.

Crossposted at