Incumbent Republicans Err in Strategy

Published on March 31st, 2014

By Joe Guzzardi
March 31, 2014

Incumbent Republicans who support bills that would expand immigration make a mistake in their political calculus. Their defense of legalization, really a blanket amnesty for 12 million illegal immigrants and a 20 million increase in work visas, represents a flawed strategy. Republicans hope to get votes from the Hispanic bloc, convince Americans to join them on the what they call the immigration moral high ground or a combination of both. 

First, what many GOP leaders perceive as future Hispanic voters is a pipe dream that will never happen. Illegal immigrants can’t vote and, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Center, naturalized immigrants haven’t taken advantage of the privilege.  In its 2013 report, Pew found that of the 5.4 million legal, naturalized Mexican immigrants, two-thirds have not registered to vote.  Many have instead chosen an intermediate status—legal permanent resident—that enables them to work, to get green cards and social security cards, but not to vote. 

More from Pew: among Latinos who are neither citizens nor legal permanent residents only 4 percent identify as Republicans. Those non-citizens would eventually be citizens if the immigration bills under consideration become law. To the GOP, whether the path to citizenship takes five, ten or more years won’t matter. The large majority of new Hispanic-Americans are unlikely to vote, see the Pew research above, and if they do, they’ll vote Democrat. 

Finally, when the New York Times analyzed the post-election presidential election voting patterns, it found that the Hispanic turnout was low. Even if Romney had won the majority of Hispanic votes in swing states, he wouldn’t have carried those states. The Times concluded that Republicans would be ill-advised to focus future campaigns around greater Hispanic outreach. 

The GOP’s second part of the amnesty equation, the misguided moral argument that since illegal immigrants have come to the U.S. for the proverbial better life and are here only to work, the right thing to do is to award them legal status. 

The religious lobby is a powerful, supportive voice for amnesty. It contends that borders and established communities are barriers to a just world; worldwide, any person should be allowed to migrate anywhere if that person’s well-being would be improved– even if it creates a living standards’ decline for those communities that absorb the new immigrants. 

Most Americans, however, believe that a country’s ethical priority is to its own citizens, especially the needy. In the United States today, more than 20 million can’t find a full time job, 92 million are unattached to the labor force, 47 million live in poverty (15 percent of the total population), and 20 million households (20 percent of all households) receive food stamps. Since 1970, income inequality has widened and is more unequal than Guyana and Nicaragua; wages have been stagnant for four decades.

Although politicians, religious leaders, and big business try to make compelling arguments for more immigration, none are persuasive. Americans’ overwhelmingly want to help fellow Americans, a philosophy best explained by Vanderbilt University John Lachs who wrote that, “Throughout history, acting in self-interest for one’s own people generally has not been considered morally selfish.”


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected] or at (805)-705)-8290

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