It took about four hours of C-SPAN video to get to the headline acts at Monday's Senate Judiciary Committee immigration hearing in Washington, D.C. Gaby Pacheco. Janet Murguía. Mark Krikorian. Kris Kobach. A veritable A-list of the immigration reform debate. If the New York Post were covering the hearings, those four would have been on Page Six.
Yet not even they, nor the smackdown Illinois senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, gave Kobach, could outdo the hearing’s final speaker. Monday afternoon in Washington, Grover Norquist—who has made a political career on a national no-tax pledge, the Son of Reagan who longs for the conservatism of the 1980s—held his Immigration Reform Coming Out Party. And he sounded like a DREAMer.
“People are an asset,” Norquist began, “they’re not a liability.”
You had me at hello. Continue, please.
“America’s the richest country in the world; it’s also the most immigrant-friendly country in the world. This is not a coincidence. It’s our history, and it’s what we proved again and again. Those that would choose to change our history and would make us less immigrant-friendly, would also make us less successful, less prosperous, and certainly less American.”
The rest of Norquist’s testimony and follow-up answers had me riveted. He framed the immigration debate as a real “stimulus” bill, a “jobs package.” He sounded like President Obama, you know, the guy Grover doesn’t really like that much. Where was this Grover before, especially last year, when the GOP had some “messaging” issues during the election cycle? To think that for all the appearances Norquist made about his no-tax pledge, no one asked him his thoughts about immigration reform. Were Republicans afraid that he was getting all La Razaon them?
The 2012 election did indeed transform things. Unlike other noted conservatives, Norquist understood. The country was changing, and it you wanted to start attracting the U.S. Latino vote again, deal with immigration now, and use some intelligence.
In Washington on Monday, Norquist did just that, giving everyone a history lesson about the country and immigration: “You go back in history: This argument that people that come over will be wards of the state was used against the Irish American, about the Eastern European Jews, about Southern Europeans, about Asians. I mean, we’ve heard this again and again, decade after decade, and the people who said have always been wrong.” He also slammed those who continue to use “amnesty” as if its some type of dirty word.
Do I now see an amnesty-loving immigration activist? Because that is what happens in this country where you try to look at the immigration issue with rational intentions. You get called an “amnesty lover,” a “leftie,” a “commie,” or in the case of Norquist, the dreaded RINO: a Republican in Name Only. Join the club, Grover. I predict you will get your first “Go back to Mexico” email later this week.
The extremes have taken over the debate, and those who try to get smart addressing the issue get unfairly branded. No matter how conservative Norquist is on other issues, the haters will still come out, because this is about immigration, and you have to keep America pure, traditional, and resistant to change.
But Norquist knows the deal. Even though he has shared this position for a few years (again, where was he last year during the election cycle?), the good fight to get the reform bill passed has begun. Having Grover on your side is a good thing. Just ask Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley who was surprised and a bit sad that Norquist would be pushing for reform. Talk about respect. Norquist is tough, influential and his opinions (and tweets) carry weight:
Anti-immigrant witnesses @ Senate Judiciary hearing were quite weak. Thecommunities of faith, farmers and business guys are all with Reagan.— Grover Norquist (@GroverNorquist) April 23, 2013
He’s even RTed the DREAMErs Monday night:
Add Reagan/Kemp/Rubio/PaulRT @dreamact: Seems like Grover Norquist is the only conservative who knows how to read. #SJC #readthebill — Grover Norquist (@GroverNorquist) April 23, 2013
So embrace the rest of your amnesty-loving Americans, Grover. You’ve been called worse.
This column originally appeared on NBC Latino.