So you think that the GOP-controlled Congress (the House through their
majority, the Senate through the filibuster and other Senate “customs” like
one-person “holds”) is going to let pass the “bi-partisan” immigration reform
bill that came out of the Senate, especially when President Obama (who certain
GOP House members can’t even stand to look at --- couldn’t be the color of his
skin, could it?) has said that it is his number one priority? Think again.
Even Cuban Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the Senate bill’s co-sponsors, is
not backing away from it (as those 2016 GOP [white] primaries beckon). Yes, anti-immigration policy, at any time in
US history, is in the party’s genes.
Let’s take a look.
As is well-known, the modern Republican Party was born in the 1850s when the then Whig Party, one of the two majors of the time, split over the matter of slavery. Rather, it split primarily over the matter of the degree of expansion of slavery into the Western Territories that should be permitted, and under what conditions that expansion would take place. The Slave Power, represented primarily by the Democratic Party, wanted unlimited expansion. The Southern Whigs were willing to make some compromises on that question, but not too many. The Northern Whigs, for the most part, wanted to limit that expansion almost in its entirety. Abraham Lincoln certainly belonged to that wing of the Whigs: no interest or intention to interfere with the institution of slavery in the then-present slave states, which after all had been ensconced in the Constitution, but with every intention of preventing its further expansion westward. So the Northern Whigs were the main component of the new party.
However, there were other components as well. One was the “Temperance Movement,” which campaigned to bring down the level of alcoholic beverage use if not ban its sale altogether. This strand of thinking has remained in the Republican Party down to this very day. The GOP was the principal force behind the adoption of the Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution which went into effect in 1920 and was repealed in 1933. There was a strong element of religious/ethnic prejudice underlying this movement from its beginnings: originally rural Protestants against Catholics: Irish (whiskey), Italians (wine), and Germans (both Catholic and Protestant, beer).
It was President Richard Nixon who launched the modern version of Prohibition, the so-called “War on Drugs,” in 1971. It differed in one major way from its predecessor. While Prohibition illegalized the importation and sale of alcoholic beverages, the “Drug War” illegalized the possession and use by individuals of the targeted substances. Nixon’s “war,” really a war on certain users of certain recreational mood altering drugs (RMADs), has continued down to this very day, and has a strong element of racism in it. Although it has had little impact on the overall use of the drugs at which it is aimed, it has had a major impact on the sub-set of the drug-using population --- African-Americans. While about three-quarters of users of the targeted-drugs are white, about three-quarters of those in prison for drug-use-related offenses are non-white. For the most part it is the Republican Party, tracing its roots back to its Temperance Movement co-founders, which maintains the highest level of support for continuing this “war.”
A second major component of the original Republican Party was the “American Party” of the time, known also by its street-name, the “Know-Nothings.” For a brief period their leader was former President Millard Fillmore, who had succeeded to the Presidency upon the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850, and then lost the election of 1852 to yet another of the line of totally incompetent pre-Civil War US Presidents, Franklin Pierce. Fillmore then ran as the American Party’s candidate for the Presidency in 1856, after which time at least some of his supporters joined the Republican Party over that question of expansion of slavery into the territories. And that is the strand of the Republican Party which has had a major impact on immigration policy down to the very day, just like the Temperance Movement has had on RMAD-use policy.
It was the Republican Party which passed the highly restrictive Immigration Act of 1924 which set country-by-country immigration quotas, based on the census of 1890. The “Reagan Reforms” of 1986 were supposedly set up to “solve” the “illegal immigration problem” of people coming into the country without immigration papers from South of the border. But one of its major objectives was to make sure that Reaganite factory-farmers could continue to receive a steady supply of low-wage farm workers. It “solved” nothing else. And so we come down to the present time.
For some years now the GOP has been out in front on demanding: a) that the Mexico/US border be made impermeable or at least as impermeable as possible and b) that as many undocumented workers as possible be rounded up and then deported, regardless of the fact that many families have US citizen children (which the Obama Administration happens to have been doing, to no applause from the GOP whatsoever). Some churl on that side made up the delightful term “anchor babies” to describe such children. “Tough,” is their position. “Deport them all.” Lindsey Graham, appropriately enough Senator from the First State in Secession, South Carolina, has proposed amending the Constitution to end the provision that if you are born here you are automatically a citizen.
But there have been some changes recently, led in part by that self-same Sen. Graham.
Ostensibly because the GOP is steadily losing market-share among Latino voters some GOP leaders and advisors are telling the GOP that they have to modify their position on immigration. Working with certain Democrats, some Senate Republicans have come up with a very cumbersome, expensive, and time-consuming supposed road to citizenship for currently undocumented immigrants. Well folks, I’m here to tell you (actually the House Republican leadership has already told us), that just ain’t going to happen. So don’t hold your breath. And neither should the 11,000,000 or so undocumented immigrants and their families, US-citizen or not. For several reasons.
First, is that the reason certain Republicans give for supporting the “creation of a road to citizenship” (however arduous), that the party needs to do so to increase its appeal to Latino voters, is completely fatuous. Why should any Latino voter (other than a political supporter of Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz) vote Republican just because that party had changed its immigration policy? First, Latinos are hardly a homogenous group (although Republican racists are very likely to think of them in that regard). Second, Republican economic and social policies are more and more becoming less-and-less attractive to Latino working-class voters, just as they are to working-class voters of all ethnic groups. And if the Republicans think that they could make any serious in-roads among Latino voters, why is that group one of the principal targets of the GOP Voter Repression Campaign.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the GOP is gradually losing hold of policy positions that they can use to appeal to their demographically shrinking base: white, rural, Protestant and reactionary Catholic, racist, homophobic. They are losing on their dog-whistle issue for homophobia, gay-marriage. They are stirring up the abortion rights movement that has been so quiescent in recent years. They cannot yet use open anti-black racism, although more-and-more they are using dog whistles there and their out-in-front leaders like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are more-and-more engaging in open code-word racism. But the “anti-illegal immigrant” policy is a solid one with their base, right now, and they are not going to give it up, Marco Rubio and John McCain to the contrary notwithstanding.
And so, third, nothing is going to pass when Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama says “I will not support citizenship for people who entered the country illegally,” Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte of Virginia gets an “A+ immigration reduction grade” from a leading anti-immigration group, “NumbersUSA” (betcha he gets an A+ from the NRA as well), good old Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, interviewed by fellow reactionary Laura Ingraham, on the air told Sen. Rubio to “walk away” from the issue of immigration reform.
Anti-immigration nativism is as much in the blood lines of the Republican Party as is using the criminal law in an attempt to control the use of certain RMADs (or course as of this time never against the use of the two by-far major drug killers, tobacco and alcohol --- too much campaign funding from them). For the variety of current political reasons briefly summarized above, there it shall remain.
Note: The quotes from current Republicans are taken from “Comment: Working,” The New Yorker, June 3, 2013, by William Finnegan.