“Me Too” on Immigration: The Republican Party's kinder, gentler approach to immigration continues

By Mark Krikorian on August 1, 2000

National Review August 1, 2000

The Republican Party's kinder, gentler approach to immigration continues at the convention. The platform, settled on last week, includes significant changes from its 1996 predecessor. Both include the usual stuff about a "nation of immigrants," but while the '96 platform called for changing immigration laws so they "reflect America's national interest," the new platform's main justification for reform seems to be to "ensure fairness for those wishing to reside in this country." This difference highlights the move toward me-too Republicanism in the area of immigration.

This is not to say that all the changes are unwelcome. The friendly face toward immigrants is not only morally compelling — these are our people now, after all — but also accentuates the message being sent to suburban voters that Republican Party isn't as scary as they thought. Also, the reduced emphasis on immigrant welfare-use may at least serve to expand the debate — fiscal costs are a genuine problem, but they are only one aspect of mass immigration's broad impact on the United States. Welfare played much too large a role in 1996, as a consequence of the passage of California's Proposition 187, which would have denied most public benefits to illegal aliens.

Likewise, the call to split the INS into two agencies — one devoted to enforcement, the other to service — is a belated attempt to address the huge problems of INS inefficiency, though one that misses the main problem, which is too many immigrants for the beleaguered agency to process.

What's more, some bulleted items in the new platform seem specifically opposed to recent Republican failures on immigration. The document calls for more resources for interior enforcement (instead of just for the Border Patrol) — something Congress has been unwilling to provide. The document also cites the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform's recommendation that family immigration categories give priority to spouses and children, rather than extended family members, and the recommendation for more emphasis on "needed skills in determining eligibility for admission." The Republican Congress, led by Sen. Spence Abraham, killed these very changes in 1996 and has spent the past four years apologizing for ever having brought them up.

Nonetheless, the platform changes generally point toward George W. Bush's attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters by moving his party toward the Democratic position on immigration — one that sounds pro-immigrant, but favors high immigration. (Polls routinely show the majority of immigrants as opposed to mass immigration.) Of immigrants the platform says, "In their search for a better life, they strengthen our economy, enrich our culture, and defend the nation in war and in peace." Despite the nod toward the Commission on Immigration Reform's criticisms of current immigration policy, the platform contains no acknowledgment that immigration has both costs and benefits, winners and losers.

The 2000 platform is afraid even to criticize illegal immigration. It uses the phrase "illegal immigration" only once, in the context of promoting economic development south of the border. Nowhere are illegal immigrants themselves criticized for breaking the law, only those who help them to sneak in or who sell them false documents. This year's platform contains nothing like the 1996 statement that "We also support efforts to secure our borders from the threat of illegal immigration. Illegal immigration has reached crisis proportions, with more than four million illegal aliens now present in the United States." If the presence of four million illegals was a crisis (actually, there were five million at that time), one would think today's six million illegals would at least deserve a mention.

Noticeable also is the disappearance of the 1996 call for an end to automatic citizenship for the children of illegals born on our soil (often known as "anchor babies" for their role in establishing new migration chains).

Another indication of the GOP embrace of the Democratic position on immigration is in the area of language policy. Among the platitudes on the role of the English language, the two platforms contain almost identical sentences — with a telling difference. The '96 GOP platform said: "We support the official recognition of English as the nation's common language." This year's platform has removed the word "official."

This is a nod toward the party's wholesale move toward formal bilingualism. The GOP convention web site has dozens of pages explaining in Spanish what's happening in "Filadelfia" (http://www.gopconvention.com/Espaniol/index_sp.html ). Prime time on the climactic day of the convention will open with remarks by California Assemblyman Abel Maldonado--entirely in Spanish. (He will be introduced by Bo Derek.) An hour later, George P. Bush, the governor's nephew, will address the delegates in both Spanish and English. One wonders why former Peace Corps director Elaine Chao didn't address the convention Monday in Chinese. Or, for that matter, why didn't Arlen Specter address the convention in Yiddish, since both of his parents were immigrants, unlike Gov. Bush's nephew, who has only one immigrant parent.

At heart, what's missing from the treatment of immigration at the convention, and in the Bush campaign generally, is an understanding that there is a difference between immigrant policy and immigration policy. In wanting to appear pro-immigrant, the GOP has abandoned any real criticism of mass immigration, despite the growing academic consensus that today's policies are harmful on a variety of levels. And even the party's new pro-immigrant schtick isn't entirely convincing, since the Republican leadership is at the forefront of new anti-immigrant moves to import "temporary workers" — indentured servants — into agriculture and the computer industry.

The GOP's me-too immigration policy is bound to fail; in a contest between a real Democrat and a Republican pretending to be a Democrat, the genuine article will win every time. Gov. Bush has seen this first-hand; despite reports that he took half the Hispanic vote in his Texas re-election campaign, detailed analysis shows he actually received only about one-third of the Hispanic vote, the same as Reagan in 1984. The only way for the GOP to compete politically on immigration is to carve out a distinctive position — a pro-immigrant policy of low immigration, one that welcomes those newcomers who live among us but seeks a more sensible policy on future immigration.