Immigrants and the GOP

I just stumbled upon this Wall Street Journal article. I had to share it with Redstaters. It echoes my views completely.

Immigrants and the GOPAugust 30, 2008; Page A10While the Democrats were in Denver nominating Barack Obama, Republicans were busy writing their party platform. Not surprisingly, immigration was a sticking point. And while some of the more extreme proposals, such as denying citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal aliens, were defeated, the platform committee did vote to wall off Mexico.

The platform will go before the full Republican National Convention next week. And before approving it, the GOP would be wise to consider the demographic data that the Census Bureau released earlier this month. The media focused on Census projections that ethnic and racial minorities will comprise a majority of U.S. residents by 2042, thanks to higher minority birth rates, especially among Hispanics. But there’s also a political lesson in these findings: A party that thinks it can win elections by alienating Latinos is going to be in the minority for a very long time.

A Pew poll released last month found that Hispanic registered voters favor Barack Obama over John McCain by 66% to 23%. That yawning gap almost certainly has less to do with Mr. Obama’s appeal than with a perception — courtesy of conservative immigration restrictionists — that Latinos are not welcome in the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan regularly won a third of the Latino vote, and more than 40% of Latinos supported George W. Bush in 2004.

In recent years, however, and despite President Bush’s warnings, many on the political right have tried to turn illegal immigration into a wedge issue, like guns or abortion. And while it hasn’t produced victories at the polls, this strategy has succeeded in alienating many among the country’s fastest-growing voting bloc. By 2020, Hispanics are projected to be 20% of the electorate, up from 9% today.

“Latino voters have moved sharply into the Democratic camp in the past two years, reversing a pro-GOP tide that had been evident among Latinos earlier in the decade,” according to Pew. “Some 65% of Latino registered voters now say they identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, compared with just 26% who identify with or lean toward the GOP.” The 39-point Democratic edge was 21 points as recently as 2006. It’s an example of what can happen when Republicans lose their free-market bearings and start channeling cable news populists.

Restrictionists are also deluding themselves if they think sealing the border can reverse these demographic trends. Illegal border crossings peaked in 2000 under President Clinton. They’re down by half under Mr. Bush. According to Census data, Hispanic population growth is no longer being driven by immigration, legal or illegal. Since 2000, it’s been driven by the higher birth rates among Latino women already here.

To woo back these voters, Republicans needn’t pander or abandon conservative principles. These are economic migrants who come here looking for work, not handouts, with labor participation rates that exceed those of the native born. But at the very least, the GOP must make Hispanics feel appreciated. And that’s difficult to do when the party’s attacks on illegal immigration end up demonizing Hispanic migrants.

Republicans might also keep in mind that most of the illegal Latino population in the U.S. is related to people here legally. To the ears of these legal immigrants, rants against illegals are attacks on a mother or father or sister or uncle — not some abstract law-breaker.

Perceived animosity toward Latinos can also spill into other ethnic voting blocs. In the 1990s, Republican support in California for Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that denied illegal immigrants access to social services, not only hurt the party with the Hispanic electorate. It also led to a drop in GOP support among the state’s Chinese and Koreans voters, even though many of them are small-business owners with a history of voting Republican.

About half of Latino voters are foreign born, which means they’re relatively new to America and have yet to form strong party ties. These voters are up for grabs, and our politics will be healthier if both parties compete for their support