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Friday, January 31, 2014

On Immigration, Will the GOP Cave to Racists?

Anti-immigration protesters
In a piece for The Daily Beast, Patricia Murphy writes that a new front is about to open up in the GOP Civil War. At this very moment, House Republicans are locked away at a "retreat," where they're trying to knock together some sort of immigration reform bill. So far, John Boehner has put forth two principles -- one vague and one specific -- that would be required to get House leadership's support. The first is the vague one: that any law would go into effect only after so far undefined "specific enforcement triggers have been implemented." The second is that there be no pathway to citizenship.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that there would be no automatic pathway to citizenship -- people covered by the reforms would have nothing standing in the way of citizenship, other than the fact that they'd have to officially declare that desire. This is pretty much a fig leaf for the GOP, whose messaging had until recently argued that a pathway to citizenship was "amnesty" and the worst thing ever! By saying there's "no pathway to citizenship," House leaders hope to avoid charges of "caving" to Democrats on the issue. But it would be much more accurate to say there would no longer be any glide path to citizenship, since the path is cleared of any obstacles, should you wish to follow it. You've just got to land the thing yourself.

Whether that fig leaf is enough to get enough Republicans on board is still an open question. Greg Sargent has argued that we'll know when they define the "specific enforcement triggers." If the triggers are unreasonable and unattainable, like a giant wall closing off a ridiculous percentage of the southern border or 100% use of and compliance with e-Verify, then that means Republicans have failed to agree among themselves and they're trying to blame the failure of reform on Democrats.


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But what would really be responsible for that failure? In a remarkable moment of candor, some Republicans say racism would be to blame.

Buzzfeed: “Part of it, I think — and I hate to say this, because these are my people — but I hate to say it, but it’s racial,” said the Southern Republican lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If you go to town halls people say things like, ‘These people have different cultural customs than we do.’ And that’s code for race.”

There are a range of policy reasons for opposing plans to liberalize immigration or to regularize undocumented immigrants in the country, ones revolving around law-and-order concerns and the labor market. But that perceived thread of xenophobia, occasionally expressed bluntly on the fringes of the Republican Party and on the talk radio airwaves, has driven many Hispanic voters away from a Republican leadership that courts them avidly. And some Republicans who back an immigration overhaul, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of the Republican Party’s most vocal champions of a pathway to citizenship, acknowledge that race remains a reality in the immigration debate.

“There will always be people [who have] different reasons for opposing the change. We have a history in this country of demagoguery when it comes [to immigration]. You know, ‘Irish Need Not Apply.’ There’s nothing new going on today that’s gone on before. This isn’t the first time that there’s been some ugliness around the issue of immigration,” Graham said.
It's the nativist base that cheered on Arizona's racist anti-immigration law -- one that requires anyone who police suspect might be undocumented to produce the proper papers on demand, like a "papers please" scene from Hogan's Heroes. It's the same base that had John McCain star in a presidential campaign commercial with a somewhat problematic Arizona sheriff. And it's that same base that dragged Sen. Marco Rubio from 2016 frontrunner to conservative has-been after he took the lead on an earlier reform effort.

In all but the last example, the base was encouraged by the party -- or, at least, by the party mouthpieces in rightwing media. No one spoke out when the base made Joe Arpaio -- who should've been nothing more than a racist, birther embarrassment -- a party hero. No one spoke out on any of this stuff. And now party leadership expects them to turn on a dime, because it's politically expedient.

Maybe Boehner's more of a leader than I suspected. Maybe he can twist enough arms and promise enough campaign financing to actually get a working version of this out of the House. At this point, there is some reason for optimism.

But the base will not follow. At this point, they've been trained to respond to anything less than driving all undocumented people out of the country with pitchforks as a form of "amnesty." If Republicans agree to any substantive reforms, the base -- driven by what even many Republicans admit is bigotry -- will be extremely displeased at best. And in revolt, at worst.

We could see a Second Wave of Tea Party sentiment after this, an angry denouncement of the "RiNOs" who let the liberals pull one over on them. A rabid, raw, nakedly racist backlash against GOP leadership and party establishment.

But it has to happen sometime. The party has to shed the racists to make some progress. It may hurt them in the short term, but there is no other moral choice. The only alternative is to go back to pandering to bigots -- a position the party has taken far too often on far too many issues.

It has to stop some time. Now would be as good a time as any.

-Wisco

[photo by Mike Schinkel]


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