Republicans can be so shortsighted. They really don’t seem to understand the harm they’re doing to themselves, their party, and their future electability when they anger and alienate Hispanics — one of the fastest-growing parts of the electorate — by making dumb moves on immigration.
The latest dumb move: House Speaker John Boehner seems poised to appoint a pair of extremist and “enforcement-only” lawmakers — Rep. Steve King, R-IA, and Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX — to key positions with direct oversight of the immigration issue. There are those Republicans who look at immigration in all its complexities, who recognize it as an economic issue, who are careful to use measured and respectful language, and who look for solutions to problems and not just sound bites that rile up the base. King and Smith are not those kinds of Republicans. They’re the more basic models that naively believe the only reason we have illegal immigrants in this country is because we lack the will to deport more of them.
Not surprisingly, at least one prominent group of Hispanic Republicans has already objected to these potential appointments. The leaders of Somos Republicans, which calls itself the largest and fastest growing Hispanic Republican organization in the country, recently sent Boehner a letter asking him to reconsider the appointments.
Of particular concern to the group is the fact that King and Smith have both declared their support for gutting the 14th Amendment to eliminate birthright citizenship for the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. So much for conservatives pretending to be strict constructionists. Going after kids is a suicide mission that will bring Latinos out of the woodwork to vote against Republicans for the next fifty years.
When Republicans pull stunts like this, they cut their throats with a constituency that would normally be a natural-fit for the Republican Party because it is conservative on social issues. They’re also playing with fire demographically since Latinos already account for nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population, and they’re on track to account for a third by 2030. And they’re making life easy for Democrats who don’t deserve to have the level of support they have with Latino voters.
In recent years, Democrats have thwarted education reform that would have helped Latino children, killed immigration reform that would have provided a pathway to earned legal status for Latino immigrants, undermined trade deals that would have benefited Latinos, and stood in the way of meaningful reform of the Social Security system that would ease the tax burden on young Latino professionals.
Latinos should be ripe for the poaching, and they might have been poached by now if not for the inconvenient fact that so many Republicans treat anti-immigrant rhetoric like catnip.
They insist they’re only anti-illegal immigrant but they become anti-immigrant soon enough. When they talk about birthrates or changing demographics or the failure of some immigrants to learn English and assimilate as quickly as some would like or their alleged propensity to commit crimes, those concerns are much too broad to be limited to illegal immigrants. If these things are problems, they could just as easily stem from legal immigrants, which outnumber their illegal brethren about 3 to 1 in the United States. So if you’re as worried about the changing culture as much as you are secured borders, it’s only a matter of time before you set your sights on limiting the number of legal immigrants. And once that line is crossed, it’s much harder to hide and suppress the xenophobic impulses that drive much of the immigration debate. Once people have been exposed as anti-foreigner, it’s just a small leap until they reveal themselves as anti-Latino.
And that’s a good repellent. So for the sake of scaring up a few votes from the right-wing base, Republicans foolishly scare off a group of voters that they can’t afford to alienate.
Conservatives don’t have to abandon their principles, turn themselves inside out, and adopt an open border philosophy all for the sake of pandering to Latinos. That isn’t necessary, and it wouldn’t be wise. They just need to mind their manners and control their rhetoric. They need to make sure they stay focused on universally popular concepts such as securing the border and stopping illegal immigration and avoid doing what Americans have done for more than 230 years in this country: casting immigrants as deficient, defiant, dangerous or defective.
If they do that, they’re done.