We are all Republicans—or could be:
The GOP’s Presidential election defeat is opening up a debate in the party, with more than a few voices saying they are willing to rethink their views on immigration. This is good news, which means it’s also a good moment to address some of the frequent claims from the anti-immigration right that simply aren’t true, especially about Hispanics.
One myth is that Latino voters simply aren’t worth pursuing because they’re automatic Democrats. Yet Ronald Reagan was so eager to welcome Latinos to the GOP that he described them as “Republicans who don’t know it yet.”
That’s always been my belief. Immigrants come here looking for economic and political freedom, two key elements of the Republican brand (or once were). My problem is with the illegal part. I have a hard time accepting as an equal citizen someone who has broken a succession of laws and taken advantage of our laziness and generosity to get here and stay here. It’s an insult not only to the rule of law (the basis of our stability and prosperity), but to the legal immigrants who wait and sweat out their admittance to this country.
That said, even legal immigrants who played by the rules don’t want to hear language that borders on hostile or racist when describing their illegal brethren.
If illegal aliens are displacing natives in the labor force, why was there more immigration and less unemployment under President Bush? And if foreign nationals are primarily attracted to our welfare state, how to explain the fact that low-income immigrants are less likely to be receiving public benefits than low-income natives?
Illegal aliens aren’t eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other federal entitlements. But even those low-income immigrants who are eligible for public assistance sign up at lower rates than their native counterparts. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers food stamps, noncitizens who qualify are significantly less likely than citizens to participate.
Over the past decade, the states experiencing the fastest immigrant population growth have not been traditional gateways like New York and California. Latino newcomers have been flocking to Arkansas, Tennessee, Utah, Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and the Carolinas—states that are among the stingiest for public benefits.
Between 2000 and 2005, the Hispanic population in Arkansas grew by 48%, more than any other state. Social welfare spending in Arkansas is among the lowest in the country, making it an odd destination for someone in search of a hand-out. The early and mid-2000s were a period of strong economic growth in the state and much of the Southeast, and the immigrants were looking for jobs.
Again, I must insist: there is immigration, and there is illegal immigration. I am totally, utterly, and completely pro-immigration, and just as zealously anti-illegal immigration.
The larger issue is about values and economics. With rare historical exceptions like anti-Chinese nativism of the late 1800s, belief in the immigrant story of aspiration and the U.S. as a land of opportunity have been core American values. A party that rejects those beliefs distances itself from American exceptionalism, if we can borrow a word popular in conservative circles.
As for the economics, immigration is one reason the U.S. has better prospects than the aging entitlement states of Europe and Japan. America needs immigrants with varying degrees of skill and income for economic growth, and the best way to know how much is to let labor markets determine the flow through flexible visa programs.
Minorities need not be a barrier to electing Republicans. They are an opportunity to expand the GOP coalition to include our most recent arrivals. The sooner the party realizes that, the better off it will be.
The economy has taken care of a lot of the opportunists. With no jobs to be had, as many illegals are returning to their countries of origin as are sneaking in.
In 1984, Ronaldus Magnus wins in a landslide, and in ’84 Ronaldus Magnus got 37% of the Hispanic vote. Two years later, Reagan signed into law amnesty for three million illegals, called Simpson-Mazzoli. Now, according to the wizards in the Republican consultancy class, that should have meant droves of Hispanics voting for the next Republican in 1988.
Reagan got 37% and passed amnesty. We showed the Hispanics we love ’em, we cherish ’em, we care about ’em. We granted them amnesty. We gave citizenship to three-point-some-odd million of them in 1986. The next presidential election is George H. W. Bush in 1988. The percentage of the Hispanic vote that he got two years after amnesty was 30%.
I just don’t know. George Bush was no Reagan, so comparisons are misleading. But not only does amnesty not fix the problem of illegal immigration (rather it exacerbates it), it doesn’t win Republicans any Hispanic votes.
Maybe the lesson is to sell the conservative brand as positively as Reagan did. He could go negative, but he beat Carter by promising better days: Morning in America.
There’s just no reason for this trend—unless the reason is something beyond fixing by the Republican Party.