Mitt Romney lost Latino votes Tuesday by a 44-point margin, a number that has caused some very principled conservative thinkers to panic unnecessarily.
Premiere Radio host Sean Hannity broke first, telling listeners Thursday: "We've gotta get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It's simple for me to fix it. I think you control the border first, you create a pathway for those people that are here, you don't say, 'You gotta go home.' And that is a position that I've evolved on. Because you know what -- it just -- it's gotta be resolved."
Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer quickly followed suit, writing: "For the party in general, however, the problem is hardly structural. It requires but a single policy change: Border fence plus amnesty. Yes, amnesty. Use the word. Shock and awe -- full legal normalization (just short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement. ... The other party thinks it owns the demographic future -- counter that in one stroke by fixing the Latino problem."
Hannity and Krauthammer are tremendous talents who have done much good promoting conservative values and ideas. But on immigration and amnesty they appear to have a very short memory.
In 1984, President Reagan won re-election despite losing Hispanics 2-to-1. In 1986, Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which both tightened immigration enforcement at the border and granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants. In 1988, Hispanics rewarded the Republican party by voting ... even more heavily Democratic. President Bush lost Hispanics by 40 points, 70 percent to 30 percent. So much for amnesty as the "single policy change" capable of "fixing the Latino problem."
Worse, not only will amnesty completely fail as a political solution for the Republican Party, it will fail as a policy solution for America. Just like the spending cuts that never happened when Republicans agreed to raise taxes in 1990, the new border enforcement promised in the 1986 amnesty never materialized. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States has grown by 11.5 million since the existing population was given amnesty 26 year ago.
Despite our currently stagnant and weak economy, millions more from around the world still want to come to the United States. According to Gallup, roughly 6.2 million Mexicans living in Mexico say they would move permanently to the United States if given the chance. An additional 7.7 million in Brazil, 7.8 million in Bangladesh and 17.1 million in India all said the same thing. Unless we want to turn all of our borders and ports of entry into North Korea-like demilitarized zones, people will keep coming. Even with Obama as president, this is still the best country in the world.
The question is, what happens when they get here? Every amnesty-based proposal to the immigration problem is the essentially the same: a randomly chosen date divides noncitizens, who will be rewarded for illegally entering the United States, from those who didn't get here illegally soon enough. There simply is no moral or logical reason to reward the first group and punish the second. The moral case for granting citizenship to those in the United States now is just as strong today as it will be for those who enter the country tomorrow. Pretending otherwise, as Krauthammer and Hannity do, only undermines our civil institutions and the rule of law.
Conservatives will never win over Latinos, or any other demographic (Romney lost Asians by an even larger, 47-point margin) by treating them as a distinct special interest group to be pandered to. That is how liberals keep their political coalition together -- and we know how that turns out. Just looked at Democratic-owned and ever-bankrupt state of California.
Conservatives need to find a new way to approach immigration. Talking about it as "the Latino problem" will only turn more people away from the movement. Conservatives need to find a solution that treats all immigrants, whether they're from Ireland, Mexico or India, the same; one that does not punish would-be immigrants in other countries for following our immigration laws; and one that celebrates the hard work and risk it takes to immigrate and succeed in America.
There is no "simple" fix to this issue, neither politically nor policywise. Pretending otherwise only hurts conservatives and the country.
Conn Carroll (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @conncarroll.