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Editorial: Time is right for immigration reform

5-1-10 Daley Center PlazChicago Thousands Chicagoans support federal immigratireform attend rally aftyer march from UniPark. [Keith Hale/Suntimes]

5-1-10 Daley Center Plaza, Chicago Thousands of Chicagoans in support of federal immigration reform attend a rally aftyer a march from Union Park. [Keith Hale/Suntimes]

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Updated: December 27, 2012 6:08AM

Let’s see if the Republican Party can say, “Si, se puede.”

Or, to translate, “Yes, we can.”

For decades, the Republican Party has said “No, we won’t” to any realistic and compassionate solution to the problem of 11 million people living in our country illegally. The GOP has ridiculed any suggestion that these folks, who are mostly from Mexico, should be granted amnesty or offered a path to citizenship. The GOP’s only Spanish has been “Hasta la vista, baby.”

But in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s re-election, made possible in part by lopsided support from Latino voters, the Republican Party may be getting religion on immigration reform. It’s either that — support reform as the essential first step in wooing Latino voters — or the GOP can kiss the White House goodbye for a generation.

A convergence of self-interest, not only on the part of soul-searching Republicans, is shaping up to make comprehensive immigration reform politically feasible in the coming year. Agricultural employers seeking legal farm workers are on board. Technology companies seeking visas for high-skilled immigrants are on board. Local police departments, who would rather be fighting real crime, are signing on.

And, according to the New York Times, even evangelical ministers, who are seeing huge growths in their churches from Latino immigrants, are coming around to the virtues of immigration reform.

But best of all, political conservatives are warming to the idea. A few days after Obama’s re-election, House Speaker John Boehner said it’s time for Washington to finally work out a “comprehensive approach” to immigration and solve the problem “once and for all.” Grover Norquist, the anti-tax zealot, recently said granting legal status to undocumented workers is vital to fixing the economy. Sean Hannity, the Fox TV host, said that he’s changed his mind and now supports immigration reform.

Standing firm against immigration reform, of course, are other staunch conservatives, especially Rush Limbaugh and the hard-right Republican base, who ridicule the very idea of legal status for undocumented workers as just another “gift” from “Santa Claus Obama.”

The crimped and insulting view of the naysayers is that Latinos vote strictly in their economic self-interest, narrowly defined, not on the basis of immigration policies. Latinos, in this view, support the Democratic Party because they want more government services, affirmative action, health insurance and the like. As more Latinos gain citizenship, it follows, they’ll keep on voting Democratic, dooming the GOP.

Let’s see who’s running Washington, let alone the Republican Party. Let’s hope President Obama heeds the advice of Speaker Boehner and strikes while the iron is hot, putting forth a comprehensive plan to secure our nation’s borders while offering legal status — and a real chance of citizenship — to some 11 million undocumented workers, students and children.

As he did with health-care reform, Obama can make history and burnish his legacy by taking the lead in pushing through far-reaching and lasting immigration reform. And this time around, he and the Democrats need not necessarily do the job alone.

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