The Tennessean recently published Attorney Bryce Ashby's article, "Embracing immigrants will benefit GOP in long run," which addresses how the state legislature should implement pro-immigrant policies and programs.
"President Barack Obama's recent executive action on immigration, coupled with Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn's quixotic effort to reverse those orders, have created a significant shift in the political opinion of Latino and new citizen voters toward the Democrats. The recent ruling by a federal judge against the president's action sets up a looming, long, legal battle that could prove problematic for Republican plans of recapturing the White House in 2016.
The current legislative session in Nashville offers our state congressional leaders the opportunity to push back against the nativist/xenophobic labels that the national Republican Party is earning. Specifically, Gov. Bill Haslam and the supermajorities in the General Assembly can create a new pro-immigrant narrative by embracing three simple initiatives.
First, Tennessee should enact tuition equity to undocumented persons. Currently, undocumented youth, brought to the United States by their parents, are charged out-of-state tuition at Tennessee institutions of higher learning. Moderate Republicans Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) and Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) have introduced HB 675 and SB 612 to remedy this situation, recognizing the senselessness of forcing kids who have graduated from our high schools to pay prohibitively expensive, wholesale tuition.
Denying dedicated students the opportunity to succeed by withholding college credits conflicts with our collective values and values central to the Republican Party.
Passing tuition equity would accomplish three objectives: The legislators would demonstrate their support for higher education, they would nurture the aspirations of young people who hope to ascend socially and economically, and the legislature would give a skeptical electorate a reason to vote Republican in next year's election.
Second, Gov. Haslam should launch a statewide Office of New Americans. Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis have identified themselves as "welcoming communities," recognizing the economic and cultural benefits that accrue through immigrant influx. Nashville and Chattanooga have actually opened offices to begin recruiting and retaining new immigrants.
By implementing policies and programs that facilitate life for new Americans — such as charging librarians with helping residents prepare for citizenship tests and providing guidance for small-business owners — we offer a welcoming hand to those who seek to earn their part in America.
Tennesseans should begin to view immigrants — the undocumented included — as assets, not "lawbreakers." First-generation immigrants are 27 percent more likely to start a business than non-immigrants, and new immigrants create pockets of culture and creativity in our cities. While some of our cities are leading the effort, a statewide Office of New Americans could coordinate and expand the initiatives to rural areas. Immigrants have always been fundamental sources of renewal for our country. Let's embrace them within our state.
Third, Tennessee's Republican leadership should systematically review how the party addresses immigration. The courts have repeatedly held that immigration policy and border security fall under federal jurisdiction, allowing states to concentrate on education, integration of immigrants and creation of social harmony.
If the Republican Party hopes to reach the new-citizen voters, it needs to understand immigrants as people, not targets to demonize. A change in tone and promotion of policies that represent "Republican values" — entrepreneurship, familial integrity and education — would challenge the negative perception of the Republican Party held by many immigrants, Latinos included.
Our state legislature can lead through enlightened rhetoric: The tired, calculated talk of deportation, lawbreaking and illegality might be a winning political strategy in the short term, but, as the last two presidential elections have shown, it can't work long-term.
Let's prioritize educating our immigrant neighbors — let's welcome them and embrace their essential humanity. That's a formula that's good for our state and essential for a Republican party that hopes to retake the White House in 2016.
Bryce W. Ashby is an attorney and the current board chair of Latino Memphis, Inc. Michael J. LaRosa is adjoint associate professor of Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University and associate professor of history at Rhodes College."
(Via The Tennessean)