CPAC 2019 Offers Little for Immigration Restrictionists

By Matthew Sussis on February 28, 2019

This week, conservatives from across the country are gathering right outside Washington, D.C., for the 46th annual Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. The event is hosted by the American Conservative Union (ACU).

While the conference has traditionally been a gathering place for renowned conservatives to discuss the most important issues du jour, one topic is conspicuously largely absent: immigration.

According to this year's agenda, out of the 80 main events and speeches, a range of topics such as Venezuela, the Green New Deal, military spending, the national debt, Israel, and abortion are covered at least twice each. Yet just one event is dedicated to immigration: "Nationhood and the Border Crisis", a conversation with Sen. Ted. Cruz and Rich Lowry of National Review. While both Cruz and Lowry are certainly respectable names and well-versed on the topic, it's disappointing that the issue most closely tied to President Trump's election is limited to a single conversation. Equally disappointing is that, based on the title, this conversation appears to be limited in scope to illegal immigration. The crisis at the border is serious and certainly worthy of discussion, but the United States is currently taking in over one million legal permanent residents every year and nearly one in seven U.S. residents is now an immigrant. Shouldn't that be discussed, too?

One would think that the nation's top conservatives would be interested in discussing how high levels of legal immigration are helping to reshape the electoral map. Traditionally red states like Texas and Georgia are turning more blue, and Virginia has largely already flipped. Republicans have become practically unelectable in California, even in historically more conservative areas such as Orange County, which flipped blue this November.

Lots of conservatives are, in fact, discussing the impact of legal immigration. Reihan Salam wrote an excellent book entitled "Melting Pot or Civil War", in which he made the case for immigration controls and assimilation. Even more centrist pundits such as David Frum have been making the case for restrictionism as a bulwark against the emergence of dangerous far-right ideas. Yet these speakers are absent from the 2019 CPAC lineup.

It hasn't always been this way. In 2013, Donald Trump gave a speech in which he called the Gang of Eight immigration push a "suicide mission", something that helped launch his popularity in the conservative movement. In 2014, CPAC hosted a discussion with Mickey Kaus and Ann Coulter with a focus on immigration. Around 2015, however, the focus on immigration at CPAC began to fade — just as the presidential primaries brought the focus on immigration at a national level to new highs. CPAC 2015 hosted a panel about reaching a "conservative consensus" on immigration (which the panel effectively decided meant amnesty and higher levels of legal immigration in exchange for token gestures of border security), and by 2016, in the words of former CIS Legal Policy Analyst Jon Feere, there was "little to offer people in favor of immigration enforcement and reduced immigration" at all. The last several years have been progressively worse, culminating in legal immigration's complete absence from this year's event.

Many of the events at CPAC this year — with titles such as "How to Prepare the Next Generation of Conservative Leadership", and "Trials and Triumphs on America's College Campuses" -- seem intended to inspire young conservatives. If that is indeed a goal of CPAC, then perhaps its organizers, such as ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp, should bring immigration, an issue near and dear to many Millennial and Gen-Z conservatives, back into the spotlight. After all, it worked for President Trump.

Topics: Politics