On Immigration, Republicans Have Turned Their Backs on Reagan

I never thought I'd say these words: Republicans, listen to Reagan--on immigration.

As the Republican candidates for president prepare to face off in their next debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in California, they'll be tripping over themselves to prove that they are the new Reagan. While they'll applaud some of the most radical (and harmful) aspects of his record, they are likely to renounce or ignore the fact that he signed a Democratic bill that provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. And the Republican candidates probably won't mention the humane rhetoric Reagan used to discuss immigrants, since every single one of the leading Republican candidates has taken far-right stances on immigration that ignore the needs of immigrant families and our country as a whole.

We are a nation of immigrants, but the current Republican field refuses to embrace our rich heritage. That's not how it always was for Republicans. In the 1980 GOP debate, Ronald Reagan spoke of the shared humanity of all people in this country, regardless of immigration status. He said, "Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems?" As president, Reagan signed an immigration reform bill that allowed a path to citizenship for almost 3 million undocumented immigrants. Think anyone on the stage will bring up that?

On immigration, the party of Reagan is now the party of Trump. On Wednesday night, when candidates gush over Reagan, CNN should push candidates to answer why -- if Reagan is the conservative hero they hope to emulate in the White House -- their immigration stances are so much more extreme than his were. Of course, that's unlikely to happen. Instead, the Republican candidates will just continue to advocate for their extreme immigration positions in hopes to cater to the anti-immigrant GOP base.

It's deeply troubling that instead of recognizing the value of immigrants or giving them the respect they deserve, Republicans are choosing to stand against the interests of immigrants and our nation as a whole. Jeb Bush has been espousing "border first" rhetoric, even though our borders are more secure than they've ever been.

He'd like to deport immigrants who have overstayed their visas -- that's not a small group. It's about 40 percent of undocumented people here who are members of our communities, contribute to our economy, and have families here. He appealed to the Trump crowd by unapologetically using the slur "anchor babies" to refer to citizens of our country who were born here to undocumented parents.

In 2009, Marco Rubio attacked Reagan's immigration policies; not long afterward, Rubio renounced comprehensive immigration reform. He'd rather stand with his Tea Party supporters than support a commonsense solution to fix our immigration system. While building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico is a ridiculous, impossible idea, Scott Walker has not only entertained that idea, he's also floated building a wall between the U.S. and Canada to keep those people out of the country too.

Ronald Reagan wasn't right on much, but he was correct to recognize that immigrants are part of the fabric of our nation. He was right to support a path to citizenship. He was right to speak up for the humanity of all people here. Sadly, the current crop of Republican candidates would rather bash Latinos and immigrant families than take a cue from the president they all claim to admire.