Return to the Party of Lincoln

Guest column by Chapman University President James L. Doti

The Republican Party is in trouble. How could it not be when 71 percent of Hispanics, 93 percent of African-Americans and 73 percent of Asian Americans voted for President Obama?

Together, these three racial/ethnic groups comprise 26 percent of all who voted in the presidential election. Even though Governor Romney garnered 57 percent of white votes, it was not enough to offset the staggering pluralities of minority voters in the Obama camp.

Unless there are fundamental changes in political dynamics, the Republican Party will become even more challenged in future years as the non-white minority becomes the majority. The Party of Lincoln is increasingly viewed as anti-immigration and, by inference, as anti-minority.

During the presidential campaign, for example, Gov. Romney urged rapid completion of a high-tech fence along our border with Mexico and hired more border security officers. In sharp contrast, President Obama went in the face of Republican Congressional opposition to the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act by making an executive decision to prevent the Justice Department from deporting unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States as minors. Is it any wonder then that Republicans lost the Hispanic vote?

What makes the present quandary of the Republican Party ironic is that it was founded on the principle of freedom for all people. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln was the Republican Party’s first president.

The Republican Party can return to its roots by going beyond President Obama’s support for the DREAM Act. It can do this by providing the leadership necessary to pass legislation that enables current undocumented workers to have legal status and a pathway to eventual citizenship. In addition, rather than building fences and providing costly security along the border, Republicans can be leaders in an immigration overhaul that establishes a legal path for workers to crisscross the U.S.-Mexican border.

This may sound like pandering to a growing Hispanic political force in our nation. Such an about-face by the Republican Party will also seem to some to be hypocritical and antithetical to the party’s core beliefs and principles.

In fact, paving the way for undocumented immigrants to have legal status is consistent with the Republican Party’s founding. In the 1860s, its cause was the freeing of four million slaves in our country. In the 2010s, its new cause could be “freeing” the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants desperately hoping to be welcomed to our land of freedom and opportunity. They came to this country for essentially the same reason our forbearers did—to provide their families with the opportunities denied them in their homelands.

In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln spoke of a “new birth of freedom” for our nation. Today’s descendants of Lincoln’s party should now sound the clarion call for another birth of freedom, this time for the 11 million people living and working among us who are yearning to breathe free.