Conservative Group Softens on Immigration

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Have California conservatives figured out they need to change their minds on immigration?

The Lincoln Club of Orange County -- a group of conservative businessmen that has wielded big power in Republican elections -- recently announced it would support more liberal immigration policies, including a program for guest workers and a path to legal residency for undocumented immigrants already here.

This is a significant step for conservatives, who have forcefully opposed any kind of immigration liberalization -- particularly for undocumented immigrants -- in recent elections.

The Lincoln Club's president, Robert Loewen, made plain in a statement that the policy was an olive branch of sorts to California Latinos, who have turned against Republican and conservative candidates.

Loewen said: “Our hope is that this provides a starting point for Republicans and Latinos to find common ground on immigration solutions that respect the rule of law, secure our borders, and afford future immigrants and those who are already here a fair pathway to legal residency."

That last line -- "legal residency" -- is also the point at which this proposal should come in for criticism.

The club deliberately chosen "legal residency" as the goal for undocumented immigrants -- but not citizenship.

In fact, the Lincoln Club proposal explicitly takes citizenship off the table as a possibility for such immigrants.

This proposal then offers a portrait of immigrants, even undocumented ones, as useful cogs in the free market of labor.

Yes, it offers a way to transition from being undocumented to being a guest worker. But it doesn't allow the possibility of immigrants and workers becomg full-fledged citizens.

This kind of thinking is dangerous -- because it would set up an official underclass of guest workers. That's something far less than the American ideal of immigrants renewing the country, joining it and integrating it.

But that's also far more than many voters and politicians, particularly those on the right, have been willing to entertain.

It's progress, albeit modest progress.

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