What's Wrong with Immigration Policy Conventional Wisdom

By Stanley Renshon on July 9, 2013

Many members of the GOP's senior leadership pushing for "comprehensive immigration reform" and their supporters in the Democratic Party agree: Because of America's changing demographic profile and the GOP's troubled relationship with the Hispanic community, it must embrace comprehensive immigration reform, or die as a major political party.

That conventional wisdom certainly does translate to a political existential threat, if it's true; but it's far from clear that it is.

The basic premises of that view are contained in a quote from Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.):

[I]f we don't pass immigration reform, if we don't get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn't matter who you run in 2016. We're in a demographic death spiral as a party and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community in my view is pass comprehensive immigration reform.

An Interview with Mickey Kaus on the Crude

Electoral Drive of the Democratic Party:

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First, it's not at all clear that the GOP has ever been in the Hispanic community's good graces. That community has been open to individual GOP leaders at both the national and state levels, but it is not clear that their better results have been a function of embracing specific policies like a "pathway to citizenship" for the country's 11.5 million illegal aliens.

Just ask John McCain (R-Ariz.). He received 32 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008 after having sponsored comprehensive immigration reform as a senator that included a major legalization provision for the country's illegal alien population. That was only four points higher than the 28 percent that Milt Romney received in spite of the oft-repeated view that he had alienated that community by talk of "self-deportation".

In fact, that community's voting patterns don't correlate very well with specific immigration debates.

Nor is immigration reform, however that term is understood, at the top of the public list of policy priorities. Indeed, it ranks near the bottom, repeatedly. See here and here.

Moreover, it is not clear that immediate legalization and eventual citizenship for the country's 11.5 million illegal aliens is the only way to the Hispanic community's heart:

  • Not all members of that community demand citizenship for illegal immigrants as a prerequisite for their political support.

  • Based on evidence from the last immigration amnesty, not every person who was legalized opted to gain citizenship.

  • Not every member of that community is demanding immediate legalization before ascertaining whether a person should be granted eligibility.

  • Not every member of that community is demanding that as many illegal aliens as possible be eventually legalized without having undergone real and not porous checks on their eligibility.

  • Not every member of that community is demanding that legalization proceed without having substantially solved the issue of border control, entry/exit controls, and workplace enforcement.

  • Not every member of that community is demanding that family reunification policy be essentially kept at the same levels as they currently stand and as are reinforced in the Senate bill. (Note: MPI reports that, "Despite assertions that the proposed legislation would expand skills-based immigration at the expense of family, the new visa system would maintain a strong emphasis on family unification."

  • Not every member of that community is demanding that newly legalized illegal immigrants have access to the full range of American welfare benefits.

  • Not every member of that community is demanding that serious efforts to learn English and more about American political history and culture should not be part of any legalization process.

And in the unlikely and mythical event that each and every one of these items were a non-negotiable demand made by the Hispanic community for supporting the GOP, and in doing so the GOP could be guaranteed that community's support, it would still represent a dereliction of political, moral, and (national) community responsibility as well as a violation of the public's interest to accede.

Next: Immigration and the Death of the Republican Party: Reform's Road to Electoral Oblivion