Is the GOP "Anti-Immigrant?" No

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on January 26, 2012

Characterizing someone as "anti-immigrant" is an easy way to demonize those whose views you disagree with and to assault the legitimacy of their views. In the world of immigration policy and theory it is the equivalent of tar and feathers. Many who use this meme clearly hope that the term will someday rival "racist!" as an epithet of opprobrium and silencing.

It is not surprising to find a heavy use of that term among those on the political left for whom the slightest deviation from their preferred policy orthodoxy is reason enough to start sliming their opponents. Headlines like "Stephen Colbert's brilliant mockery of the GOP's anti-immigrant base" are de rigueur for sites like the Daily Kos. So are articles like the one on E-Verify titled "Anti-immigrant Bill Faces Growing Opposition from House GOP, Tea Party" from ThinkProgress.

What is more surprising is the way in which the "anti-immigrant" meme has begun to enter mainstream Republican discussions – about the Republican Party! Interviewed on "Meet the Press" Colin Powell said,

[Republicans] have got to take a hard look at some of the positions they've been taking. We can't be anti-immigration, for example. Because immigrants are fueling this country.

And what leads Gen. Powell to worry about the GOP's "anti-immigrant" views? Well, for one thing he wants Congress to pass the DREAM Act, but his real disagreement is over the 10-12 million illegal immigrants of whom he says we must "treat our immigrant population with respect and dignity and give them a path to citizenship." So treating our illegal immigrant population with "respect and dignity" requires legalization and anything else would be "anti-immigrant".

Or consider the worries of Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman and senior White House adviser to George W. Bush. He gave an interview in which he said that the 2007 debate over immigration reform showed a side of the Republican Party that was angry about illegal immigration. Any proposal to fix the problem – including then-President Bush's plan – was immediately labeled as amnesty. He then said that the party came off looking like it was opposed not just to illegal immigration but also to immigrants in general: "Sometimes it sounded anti-immigrant, and that turns people off. I don't think it's a matter of racism or xenophobia. I think it's more tone, and what people hear and how they hear it," he said.

Others are not so sure. Consider Ruben Navarrette, Jr. who is often characterized as a conservative voice, but is more accurately described as a columnist who has performed a fact check on his own views and pronounced himself satisfied that he is entitled to be the arbiter of what is honest and dishonest the GOP's immigration debate. In a recent column he described a talk he gave at the Hispanic Leadership Network in Miami, a Republican group hoping to expand Hispanic support of Republicans:

My message to the group at the time was that Republicans often mangle the immigration debate because they pander to racists in their base, propose simple solutions to a complex problem, and define the dynamic as "us vs. them" with Hispanics in the "them" category.

Worse, "More than racism or harsh rhetoric, it's the dishonesty that sticks in the craw of Latino voters."

And what does Navarrette think this dishonesty consists of?:

They never talk about how U.S. employers – especially American households – hire illegal immigrants, how those immigrants pay taxes and contribute to the U.S. economy by taking jobs few others would take, and how much of the angst about maintaining current levels of immigration has to do with who is doing the immigrating.

Actually, those who would like our immigration laws enforced talk about the hiring of illegal immigrants often and ask that the government takes steps, like mandating use of E-Verify, to make sure that only those who are authorized to legally work in the United States can get hired. And yes, everyone is aware that working illegal immigrants pay taxes, certainly sales taxes. But in the overall calculation of those who support legal immigration, extra tax money gained from illegal immigrants does not trump the damage to our social and civic culture that an inability or unwillingness to take our immigration laws seriously does to the country.

As to the "who is immigrating" question, Mr. Navarrette raises the specter of racism. Would we feel any different about having 10-12 million illegal Chinese in our country? Would we feel any differently about having 10-12 million illegal South Asians in our country? Would we feel any different if we had 10-12 million illegal Greeks in our country. I think not. In fact, while Mexicans and Central Americans comprise the large majority of the illegal population, there are Chinese illegal aliens, and South Asian, and Greek, et al.

Which brings us to the strange case of Newt Gingrich.

Next: Gingrich Adopts the Rhetoric of the Left Again, This Time on Immigration