The Meaning of the Immigration Debate

Anti-Immigration Activist

The wonkish language that envelopes the immigration debate simply confuse what is at stake. "Border-security trigger," a "path to citizenship," "living in the shadows"—both sides are having sharp disagreements over what amount to euphemisms and clichés. Even a seemingly objective term like "border security" teeters on meaningless: can you put any stock in the promises of a government that is so obviously incompetent and misguided on "national security" to control and police the world's most active migration corridor? Backing up a few steps, we can see that the current immigration debate is much simpler and more symbolic than what is being talked by politicians and professional pundits. By symbolic, I mean that whichever side of the immigration debate you come down on means much less about the details of this or that policy and much more about your feelings about America and its White majority (and not so much Mexicans).

For a long time, implying that race, identity, and demographics informed elections was decidedly politically incorrect. If not done with the utmost sensitivity, it was likely to get you fired.

That changed abruptly in 2012. After Obama's second victory, leftist and even center-left commentators began gloating about how the tidal wave of color would soon wash away the tired old White people who vote Republican. (It took some 45 years, but the 1965 Immigration Act finally elected a President.)

In the face of this, Republicans, even rank-and-file conservatives, began to convince themselves that the only way to save the Republican Party is to engage in outreach to Hispanics.

This meme inspired thousands of op-eds, blogs, and talking-points. And like so much of political conventional wisdom, it is wrong and delusional on a number of levels.

First, Hispanics aren't "natural Republicans" but are exceedingly unlikely to vote for the GOP — two-thirds to three-fourths of the Hispanic vote has gone to the Democrats for decades. Secondly, it would be much easier for the GOP to expand its White base than reach out to the unreachable.

To understand why this is the case, you must look beyond (or rather behind) talking-points and understand issues like immigration on a deeper, more visceral level.

To get at this, one could begin by asking why Hispanics are so allergic to voting Republican. One could make typical monkish argument that Hispanics should be "natural Republicans" (if not conservatives), not because of any love of free enterprise but due to the fact that, over the past 25 years, prominent Republican leaders—Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and John McCain—have authorized or been vocal advocates of amnesty for illegal aliens. And the Party infrastructure has been engaging in virtually incessant minority outreach during this time (each new effort more embarrassing than the last.)

Why are Hispanics still so turned-off? It has something to do with a preference for government programs. But this is rather minor vis-à-vis Hispanics' outright distaste for the identity of the GOP as "the White People's Party."

The GOP is the Party of those mean, rich people who cheer when candidates talk about securing the Mexican border. It's the party of those rich, haughty White people who hang American flags next to the thresholds of their front doors and respond emotionally to symbols of America's past. It's the party of those White people who are just so . . . well . . . WHITE.

This is not just the case for Hispanics. For good reason, Asians have long been considered the "model minority": they excel academically and are noted small business owners; as a group, they're less likely to go on welfare, and they certainly don't benefit from affirmative-action. There is, perhaps, no better target group for Republican rhetoric of self-reliance and limited government. And yet, in 2012, Mitt Romney lost the Asian vote 73 t0 26 (he actually did slightly better among Hispanics (!).) Simply put, the growing Asian community saw voting Republican as the thing White people do.

It is naive to believe that voting patterns are not informed (if not quite determined) by these basic, unarticulated, and sub-rational impulses and symbols. Choosing a party and taking a stand on the big, contentious issues like immigration, gun-control, and affirmative-aciton symbolize who your are, who your family is, and what you think is most important.

The Republican Party would be well served by recognizing this reality. Forget convincing Hispanics of the glories of free-enterprise; the party should instead focus on policies that make White people feel like Republicans are on their side—and won't allow America's historic majority to be displaced in its own country.