Commentary Magazine


GOP’s Self-Defeating Immigration Rhetoric

Republicans seem to truly have a death wish. They know that they have lost the last two presidential elections in no small part because they are losing the support of an ever-growing number of immigrants–primarily Latinos but also Asians. They know that the current immigration system isn’t working–that it has led to the creation of an underclass of 11 million undocumented aliens. But they refuse to pursue any serious reform beyond a desire to erect a Berlin Wall along our Southern border.

The comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate on a bipartisan 68 to 32 vote will not solve all of the issues related to immigration, but it is a start toward seriously addressing them. This balanced legislation includes a provision to allow undocumented migrants who have stayed out of legal trouble to become legal residents; a provision to increase spending on border security; a provision to increase the number of H1-B visas issued to highly skilled workers; and a provision to increase the number of low-skilled guest workers who can arrive to work in our farm fields and other areas.

Personally, I think the move to send tens of thousands more Border Patrol agents to the southern border, at an estimated cost of $40 billion over 10 years, is a bit silly; even with those additional agents, it will never be possible to seal off such a long border, and the money would be better spent on our armed forces, which are going to be devastated by a trillion dollars in budget cuts over that time. But while there may be individual complaints about this or that section of the bill, it is remarkable that it managed to win the support of both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It will help both Silicon Valley and the Central Valley (where much of the nation’s produce comes from).

And now it will be killed in the House where short-sighted Republicans have nothing to offer but a punitive approach to immigration. Seal the border, they say, and send ’em home. This is sloganeering, not serious policymaking. No one has any actual plan to deport 11 million illegals. As Sen. Marco Rubio has pointed out, we have granted de facto “amnesty” to illegal immigrants right now. That House Republicans are pledged to maintain this status quo can be explained for short-sighted political reasons, as John has noted, but it will ensure the national Republican Party suffers the same long-term fate as the California GOP.

After decades of ascendance, the California Republican Party went into terminal decline after Gov. Pete Wilson embraced an anti-immigrant message with his support of Proposition 187–a punitive measure designed to stop undocumented residents from using public schools, health care, and other essential social services–back in 1994. Other factors certainly contributed to the California party’s downfall, including its insistence on hewing to a hard-line position on social issues, but there is little doubt that its perceived opposition to the growing number of immigrants was a major factor in its growing irrelevancy.

Why House Republicans want to emulate this example I have no idea. But obviously they do.

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