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Douglas Cohn: Obama should deploy troops to border to control crisis

By Douglas Cohn

Syndicated columnist

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WASHINGTON — A thought experiment: If winning the Hispanic vote weren’t so important to the future of the Democratic and Republican parties, would lawmakers find it easier to pass immigration reform? The answer obviously is yes.

Ronald Reagan used to say Hispanics are conservative, they just don’t know it yet. Hispanics are overwhelmingly Catholic, and the Republican Party with its pro-life policies should be a natural home for these new Americans. But the GOP has done little else to welcome Hispanics, who happen to be the fastest growing bloc of voters in key states, and in the country as a whole.

Reagan presumed that once these newly arriving immigrants were integrated into the culture and became more prosperous, they would gravitate to the Republican Party. But that day has not come, and President Reagan’s time has gone.

Today’s GOP offers the ugly tone of the party’s attitude toward immigration reform, ensuring that the Hispanic vote will elude the GOP for the foreseeable future.

To compete for the presidency, a Republican needs to win 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Mitt Romney’s share in the 2012 was in the 20s, sealing his defeat.

The bipartisan immigration bill passed more than a year ago by the U.S. Senate is stalled in the House where Speaker John Boehner refuses to bring it to the floor for a vote. The legislation would easily pass with almost all Democrats voting aye, and enough Republican backers to reach the necessary 218 majority.

The formula for reform is not complicated. If lawmakers didn’t have to worry about its electoral impact, they could pass a comprehensive reform bill on a voice vote, and the ayes would have it.

Congress has stemmed the flow of immigrants in the past. When desperate Haitians made their way to Florida in rickety boats, they were turned back. There is no Haitian vote to speak of in Florida.

The Emergency Quota Act in 1921 restricted immigration into the U.S. by imposing numerical limits on immigration from Europe, ensuring that people from Northern Europe were most likely to gain admission. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, championed by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., abolished those earlier quotas and created openings for people in other parts of the world to immigrate to the U.S. based on skills and family relationships.

An earlier and even more obvious discrimination was codified in the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers. We mention these pieces of legislation to show how Congress has had no hesitation passing restrictive reforms on who can enter the country when no voting blocs were at stake.

The situation the country faces now is electorally explosive with 11 million people in the country illegally, and tens of thousands more, many of them children, streaming across the border in the belief that America, a humane country, will not turn them away. President Obama is caught in a vise partly of his own making. Liberalizing laws to allow children brought here by their parents to remain has encouraged others in Central America to think they can come and stay as well.

Meanwhile, immigration reform will never pass Congress if elected officials can’t control the border. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is calling on Obama to deploy the National Guard on the Mexican border. Obama has called up the Guard before, in 2010 and 2011, and President Bush also relied on the Guard.

Obama said he is open to using troops if that would serve as an incentive to pass comprehensive reform. The situation has deteriorated to the point where Obama should take it even farther and consider deploying Army troops to the border by executive order. As commander in chief of the armed forces, he has this authority when national security is an issue, which it clearly is in this modern day version of the disastrous Children’s Crusade that is said to have occurred in the 13th century. The Army would do a better job than the border guards, who are overwhelmed, and they would serve as a far superior deterrent.

Almost every country in the world uses troops to guard their borders. Why should the U.S. be different?

U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.