In the few days following the election in November, there was a lot of kerfuffle about “demographics”, and the GOP inability to connect with Hispanics, and the GOP shooting itself in the foot by being so harsh on illegal immigrants. Many commentators declared that Republicans “must now support amnesty” to get back in the good graces of this fast growing sector of the electorate. While this was rebutted by folk like Rush Limbaugh, who correctly pointed out that Reagan passed amnesty and the GOP lost Hispanic votes as a result, all of this seems to miss the point, which is: Republicans are lying to themselves on immigration. And the public know it, and they hate it.
While I am usually the first to call out Democratic demagoguery on race, the bottom line is that much of the GOP rhetoric on immigration is designed to appeal to people’s racism. Hispanics can figure that out pretty quickly. Intellectual Republicans will fudge that by saying “It’s all about border security”, but they are deluding themselves. Even if it was about border security, the public can hear the dog whistle – they see it as wanting to keep immigrants out, whether legal or otherwise.
Once upon a time this was smart politics. Now, not only is this dumb politics, it’s not even consistent with Republican Party values. People who want to make something of themselves as individuals by working hard are the embodiment of the American dream, and that’s what 99% of prospective immigrants to the United States are. It is Republican values in action. The argument that immigrants come and bleed off of social services has some weight, but that is not a problem with immigration. That is a problem with America’s hypocritical welfare programmes. Every law abiding, non-mooching immigrant represents labour by which the economy can grow, and has a positive effect. It makes no sense to keep those people out, and the reason there are so many illegal immigrants sneaking in is simply because America needs them, and yet the law won’t allow them to come.
The GOP needs to not only welcome immigration, but campaign to make it much much easier to do so legally. Candidates should be campaigning for more immigrants! The policy should change so that any law abiding individual should be able to get a green card if they want one. It should be a simple case of doing a background check on them, then letting them stay if they check out. Illegals already here could be given a period to apply also, and if they don’t, then they get deported. The GOP could outflank the Left on this issue, but crack down on illegals for “border security” at the same time. And they would be doing it without offering that dreaded condition known as “amnesty”.
All this would solve the problem of folk scaling fences and swimming rivers in “coming to America”. If they are good people, they should have no problem being granted a visa. The only ones left entering illegally will be the real criminals, and nobody will care if you crack down on those.
Really, what principle are the Republicans defending in being belligerent on immigration? Everybody agrees that borders should be secure, but that is a separate issue from how many people you decide to let in legally. By ignoring the latter issue and focusing on the former, they are simply alienating potential voters. If they addressed the levels of legal immigration, without neglecting border security either, they might lose a few of their base voters, but there is no concrete argument against immigration that doesn’t betray underlying xenophobia, and like the segregationists of the South, those voters will dwindle. The GOP should not cater to them. If they are bothered by “moochers”, they should change the welfare laws and see if that doesn’t fix the problem.