Dispelling Some Myths About Immigration Reform

One of my favorite conservative bloggers is John Hawkins who also writes an article on Townhall. Recently, however, he ran an article about immigration reform that, I believe, contained somewhat disingenuous arguments against comprehensive immigration reform. And many of these arguments I have heard and read in other venues, including here at Redstate. Specifically, he argues that granting any form of “amnesty” would be counterproductive to the Republican Party. For example, he notes that legalizing currently undocumented persons would give Democrats a huge electoral advantage going forward. Assuming there are about 12 million illegals in this country, he uses the 2012 Presidential election results with respect to Hispanics. In 2012, Obama received 73% of the Hispanic vote nationally versus Romney’s 27%. First, Hispanics and illegals are not necessarily spread uniformly throughout the United States population. Since we do not vote for our President by direct popular vote, national figures take on less significance. I will admit, however, that the figures should serve as a red flag in that Republican messaging is either not reaching the Hispanic community, or it is falling on deaf ears. Using these figures, he then extrapolates to argue that legalizing all illegals would deliver 9.6 million votes to the Democrats and 2.4 million to the Republican Party for a net gain of 7.2 million Democratic votes.

Again, this assumes that the Hispanic population is uniformly spread throughout the fifty states and that the 73-27% split will be the norm every four years. It also erroneously assumes two other things: that all 12 million will just be automatically made legal. Every proposal, including Democratic ones, would screen out certain classes of people from any proposed program so that the figure would likely fall below 12 million. Big numbers just sound better. Secondly, it assumes that all 12 million illegals are of voting age, that all 12 million illegals are at least 18 years old and registered to vote. That is simply not the case. Thus, his figures that the Democrats pick up an automatic net 7.2 million votes ignores demographic reality and that 7.2 million votes will be automatically delivered to the Democratic Party in one fell swoop.

He then illustrates, through electoral results, how past “amnesty” efforts affected the Republican Party. In 1984, Ronald Reagan won with 37% of the Hispanic vote. The last major immigration reform overhaul was passed under Reagan in 1986, the so-called Reagan amnesty. He then argues that this tactic backfired on the GOP since George H.W. Bush only garnered 30% of the Hispanic vote in 1988, a 7% drop from the Reagan victory. This ignores 1988’s other electoral dynamics that may have caused the decrease in the Hispanic vote. Additionally, most of those “amnestied” were not legal by 1988. Hence, the people who received the greatest benefit from the amnesty did not even vote in that election. So we cannot say that Reagan’s immigration reform, which included amnesty, caused Bush to see a decline in the Hispanic vote. A false connection is made here.

Another argument is that the Democrats would simply claim credit for the reform which would solidify their standing among Hispanics. He uses the example of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. In that legislation, Republicans were the party that actually pushed through those laws even though the racist Lyndon Johnson is given the most credit. And despite the fact that the Republican Party was founded as the anti-slavery party and dominated after the Civil War and that it was Democrats who were members of the KKK, Democratic state legislatures that institutionalized Jim Crow laws, and it was Democrats who voiced the greatest opposition to the 1960 civil rights laws, they do now claim credit for all the civil rights achievements of the 1960s. And whose fault is that? Republicans can only blame themselves for allowing the Democrats to steal this talking point from the GOP.

But most importantly, he argues that this is not necessarily good for the country as a whole and then trots out the argument that Hispanic illegals compete with Americans for jobs. For every study showing that illegal workers cause wage depression, there is another study showing they do not and usually two others saying the evidence is inconclusive. The best study I have seen shows that illegal workers depress local wages in certain classifications. For those without a high school diploma, the effect is not even the greatest. In the short-term, they depress wages an average of 8.1% and 4.9% over the long term. Demographics explain this since an influx of a large number of illegal workers into a geographical market will necessarily depress wages much like product dumping decreases costs. However, illegal Hispanic workers are generally migratory and once the local population evens out as the illegals move on, wages naturally increase. That explains the fact that the long term effect of illegal workers on wages within a defined area is less. Regardless, there are a number of factors that determine wages for any job or occupation within any defined geographical region besides the number of undocumented workers “taking jobs” from Americans.

But, like most of the arguments against immigration reform, opponents usually then decry the fact that Republicans have failed to make inroads with the Hispanic community. Again, who is to blame for this? Republicans have simply allowed the Democratic Party to potentially steal this demographic. They did this by failing to outreach to the community. Many have adopted the “Tancredoization” of the argument- a hard core anti-reform stance. Every single poll I have seen from a variety of sources both liberal and conservative and everything in between indicates that immigration reform comes in number six among concerns of the Hispanic community. In fact, education ranks at the top of the list in the Hispanic community followed by fiscal concerns- the cost of health care, wages and employment, and, yes, the national debt/budget deficits.

Another misconception is that border security must come first before any immigration reform is enacted. Too many conservatives in too many venues stress this and dig in their heels. I see no reason why dealing with the ones already here cannot go hand-in-hand with border security measures. Both strategies can be used together and simultaneously. And when talking about “border security” and those already here, one has to look at the reasons why they come here in the first place- economic opportunity. That opportunity is provided by employers and is a major reason why, if we really want to get serious, we need E-verify and strong workplace enforcement that truly punishes employers who hire undocumented workers. The fact that willing employers hire undocumented workers explains why the national Chamber of Commerce has crawled into bed with the AFL-CIO and Latino civil rights groups in favor of immigration reform.

Most importantly for the Republican Party, there must be outreach to the Hispanic community. The Democratic Party has shown their willingness to pander to that community and they are falling for it hook, line, and sinker. A perfect opportunity for the GOP is educational reform that stresses choice, not throwing money at failing schools. Why should a Hispanic student (or any student) be forced to go to an under-performing school? Towards those ends, the Republican Party needs to counter liberal Hispanic groups like La Raza and MeCHA with conservative Hispanic counterparts. Most Hispanics I know, even those of Mexican descent, do not want the southwest returned to Mexico as MeCHA advocates. Forming and financing groups dedicated to conservative principles and how they apply to the Hispanic community is a must.

Secondly, the RNC, NRSC, and NRCC need to recruit and run conservative Republican Hispanics with a central core message. There is a belief among some that Hispanics are, by nature, more conservative than African-Americans and thus should be more open to conservative beliefs and the Republican Party. Generations of entitlements directed at blacks by the Democrats has essentially enslaved that community which explains why Democrats get more than 90% of the black vote consistently. It also explains why ethically challenged Democrats like Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters garner 95% of the vote in their congressional elections. There are conservative Hispanics out there and the GOP needs to find them and support them. Among current legislators, it is up to people like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Raul Labrador, Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval and others to take the lead here.

Third, Republican candidates despite their ethnicity need to run more advertisements on Spanish-speaking radio and television and establish more offices in the Hispanic community. At times, it appears as if the GOP is afraid of this latter suggestion and that they are somehow capitulating to the Spanish language regarding former. As was stated earlier, Hispanics are not uniformly spread across the 50 states. A state like California may be a lost cause at this point, but a failure of outreach could put Texas in jeopardy. If that is the case, it is lights out for the Republican Party when it comes to national elections. Therefore, Texas would be a great place to start especially since the Democrats have already started a program to “turn Texas blue.” Other states would be Colorado and Florida in the short term and then a 50 state strategy in the long term.

A perfect example of the trend and the danger exists in my home congressional district represented by a Republican. The last time this district voted for a Republican presidential nominee was for Bush in 1988. Since then, it has voted for the Democratic nominee with the margin of victory growing every four years. In fact, Obama’s margin of victory was greater in 2012 than in 2008 which bucks national trends. Demographically, the district’s Hispanic population has increased over this same time period with its African-American population being stable and its white population decreasing (as a percentage). The only realistic thing keeping the Republican Representative being elected is the fact that the Democratic Party in this district is relatively weak. However, as I have conveyed to my congressman, his days may be numbered if the Democrats ever coalesce around a candidate and if that candidate is Hispanic. Forget the black vote as that is basically a lost cause. But, for the reasons blacks have drifted and identified with the Democratic Party, Republicans run that risk with Hispanics if they fail concerted outreach and if they continue to base policy decisions on erroneous or misleading information bordering on myth.