In the past few years, the Republican Party has prominently supported state-level restrictionist measures such as S.B. 1070. As a Salon article quipped, the Republican “party has always been favorable to Arizona’s approach to immigration.” The 2012 GOP platform is very much in line with efforts of restrictionist activists and incorporates much of S.B. 1070 into the platform itself. Given both history and the changing demographics of the United States, this is a bold move that has the potential to threaten future Republican success.
The Republican Party is not off-track in presenting a restrictionist platform on behalf of their conservative base. In a journal article published earlier this year in Publius, Gary Reich and Jay Barth call on a range of authors to support the premise that negative perceptions of immigration and restrictionist advocacy is “strongest among conservative Americans,” citing the connections conservatives make between immigration and security and the fiscal costs of immigration (2012: 426). They conclude that Republicans are more likely to support restrictionist immigration measures than Democrats, but that this is largely due to ideological rather than partisan lines.
Historically, we have been here before. To summarize Reich and Barth’s own historical progression: an anti-immigration coalition formed of organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) were successful in shifting Republican interests towards anti-immigration efforts on a state level with California’s Proposition 187 in 1994. Republicans jumped on the wave of copycat state-level legislation following Proposition 187 and the subsequent Congressional success of the Republican party ushered in 1996 reform acts that accomplished much of what Proposition 187 intended. However, there was significant backlash from the Hispanic population of California against the state Republican Party as a result of this. Riding the backlash, a different coalition (composed largely of free-market business interests) within the Republican Party pushed the party back to a more moderate approach. This background gave us George W. Bush, whose (failed) ambition to establish a path for illegal immigrants to obtain citizenship is at definite odds with the previous and current incarnation of the Republican party immigration platform (Generally, Reich and Barth, 2012: 426-7 see also Freeman, 2001).
So here we are again: A successful state-level immigration effort (S.B. 1070) with copycat legislation throughout the nation that has achieved varying degrees of success in state legislatures. As with Proposition 187, FAIR and similar organizations were involved in the passage of S.B. 1070. Most tellingly, Kris Kobach, the author of the restrictionist state-level immigration bill recently (mostly) found to be preemptive by the Supreme Court, worked for the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal affiliate of FAIR (Southern Poverty Law Center). Beyond Arizona, the influence of conservative nativist activists like Kobach on the Republican party has gone national. According to Huffington Post (and Politico, New York Times), Kobach had direct influence on the formation of the new GOP platform. Salon went so far as to headline Kobach’s influence on immigration as “GOP platform adopts Arizona law: With its official embrace of his immigration politics, the GOP is becoming the party of Kris Kobach.” While these sources are all generally liberal newspapers, the transition from S.B. 1070 to National GOP platform via demagogues like Kobach has undeniably solidified the GOP restrictionist agenda for at least the 2012 election year.
The 2012 platform includes not just endorsement of state-level enforcement, but more extensive use of E-Verify, the system that verifies the legal ability to work in the United States and the completion of the border fence. Kobach’s activist influence is seen in this border fence, as in the call to end to so-called “sanctuary cities” (Politico). Sanctuary cities are local governments who choose to not go above and beyond the federal requirements for illegal immigration. With S.B. 1070, Arizona chose to be actively involved on a state and local level in the enforcement of federal laws. As the Supreme Court found, they went too far. On the other end of the spectrum are cities like Arlington, Virginia who determined that it is not the local government’s role to enforce immigration laws. The Republican Party would take away this particular state and local level choice while encouraging the degradation of federal preemption of immigration law through the state-level enforcement seen in Arizona’s 2010 attempt.
But is this any different from the 1996 Platform? Not by much. While perhaps not as explicitly stated, the 1996 GOP platform also criticized the Clinton administration for challenging California’s Proposition 187, and took a similar stance of “standing with the American people” on state-level restrictionist immigration policy (CNN). When Proposition 187 rose to the federal level and a Republican controlled Congress passed the 1996 immigration and welfare reform laws, the Hispanic backlash in California “was severe and long lasting, with the Republican Party suffering the most blame and punishment” (Center for American Progress, see also Freeman, 2001, Reich and Barth, 2012, Los Angeles Times). While this did not translate to the national level, the backlash hindered the Republican party within the state until Schwarzenegger took office in 2003.
What is different between the early nineties, when this backlash was largely limited to the state level, and the present day is the composition of voters in the United States. The 1990 U.S. census cited only 22.4 million Hispanics in the United States (infoplease) and 7.6 million of those lived in California, making up 25.8% of the population of the state (Lopez, 2002). That 25.8% of the population was enough to create significant state-level backlash against the Republican party. Today, the Hispanic population is the fastest growing minority in the United States, growing four times faster than the growth rate of the nation over all (U.S. Census). 52 million Americans today are of Hispanic origin, at a whopping 16.7% of the total U.S. population and it is estimated that in less than forty years, that percentage will reach 30% (infoplease). Notably, about half of today’s 52 million Hispanic Americans live in California, Texas, and Florida (the latter two states being significant swing states in the upcoming election). Due to these changing demographics, a Hispanic backlash today has the potential to be felt on a national level.
Incorporating S.B. 1070 and the restrictionist agenda into the Republican Party platform is problematic because of the anti-Hispanic implications of S.B. 1070. S.B. 1070’s controversial 2(B) “show me your papers” provision is widely argued to allow for the racial profiling of Hispanics (See Chin et. al., 2010 for an interesting legal argument behind this). More importantly, 60% of Latino voters in battleground states polled on the S.B. 1070 law felt that it would “contribute to an anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic environment in America” (Latino Decisions). On top of the racism Hispanic citizens may face as a result of policies such as S.B. 1070, many Hispanic citizens come from mixed-status families. For example, 52% of Hispanic children born in the United States are born to mixed status families (NCLR). Even if these children cannot vote in this election, they will be able to in the next few years and this statistic is telling of the prevalence of mixed-status families throughout the United States. Why would a voter and American citizen support a party that supports racist policies against their own race on top of making it more difficult for their undocumented family member to live, work, and obtain citizenship in this country?
The Hispanic population is growing faster than the overall birthrate of the United States and a large Hispanic voting base is “key to the [Republican] party’s electoral chances and future” (Politico). With this in mind, and the Proposition 187 backlash against the Republican Party on a state level, embedding policies considered racist against Hispanics into their platform is a shortsighted political move on the part of the Republican Party. This approach needs to change if the Republican Party seeks to succeed on the long term in the changing demography of the United States.
Chin, et. al. (2010) ‘A Legal Labyrinth: Issues Raised by Arizona Senate Bill 1070’, Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, 25, pp. 47-92.
Freeman, G.P. (2001) ‘Client politics or populism? Immigration reform in the United States’, in Guiraudon, V. and Joppke, C. (eds) Controlling a New Migration World. New York: Routledge, pp. 65-95.