Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why is the Republican Party Hostile to Immigrants?

In my previous post, I mentioned  hostility to immigrants as a major weaknesses of the Republican party, the main source of their poor showing among hispanic voters. That hostility was demonstrated in the primary campaign, where candidates seemed to be competing with each other on how high a fence they wanted to build along the Mexican border (nobody seems to worry much about the Canadian border), and how strongly they would try to pressure illegal immigrants to leave. One interesting, and important, question, is why.

A possible response, suggested by a commenter, is that the hostility is not to immigrants but to illegal immigrants, and that it is not really to illegal immigrants but to illegality, that Republicans, more than Democrats, object to people breaking the law and getting away with it. That is possible—certainly almost all of the discussion was put in terms of illegals. On the other hand, one obvious way of reducing the pressure for illegal immigration would be to make legal immigration much easier, and nobody in the Republican party, nobody I noticed in either party, was arguing for that policy. And one solution to the problem of how to deal with the illegals already here would be to give them the option of leaving and coming back, this time as part of a legal process.

As it happens, I know someone who did that. One of my best students—one of the two named in the dedication to one of my books—told me that he had been an illegal immigrant. His family came in on a tourist visa, stayed long past its expiration. Eventually they went to Canada, came back as legal immigrants, in time became citizens. He ended up going to Harvard law school and, when I was last in touch, was an attorney in Los Angeles. But it would have been a lot harder if his family had been penniless and uneducated.

One test of the illegality explanation would be to ask if Republicans are particularly hostile to other forms of illegality. It's tempting but not entirely fair to ask whether they always keep to the speed limit—by my observation, almost nobody does, and on some roads anyone who did would be a traffic hazard. Off hand, I cannot think of any politically live controversies other than immigration over whether lots of people who have broken a law should be prosecuted or forgiven that we could use as a better test. Perhaps a reader can suggest one.

I can think of a variety of other reasons why people might be opposed to immigration, legal or illegal. There is the argument, I think mistaken but not obviously implausible, that there are not enough jobs to go around and we don't need more people competing for them. There is the concern that poor people will come in and go on welfare, or commit crimes, or litter the streets, or change our culture in ways those already here don't like. There is the general nationalist sentiment that favors "us" and fears "them."

But I do not see any good reason why those arguments would be more popular with Republicans than with Democrats, enough more popular to explain the Republican party pushing policies likely to drive a lot of voters away. The groups I would expect to be most concerned with competition from immigrant workers would be labor unions, and they mostly support the Democrats.

And for one good response to the "illegals deserve to be punished for what they did" argument, from a prominent Republican and ex-majority leader:
I don't like illegal immigration, but I'll tell you something: I don't run stop lights. But you put me out on the road at two o'clock in the morning on the way to the all-night drugstore to get medicine for my babies, and you give me a stop light that is stuck on red, and no traffic in sight, and I'm gonna go through that red light."

(Dick Armey)


mike shupp said...

From observation over the years, what Americans hate about illegal immigrants is that they tend to only speak Spanish. There's just a large group of people who go absolutely insane when they confront other people speaking a foreign language. There's no reasoning involved -- just immense instantaneous horror and revulsion.

I suspect native Mexicans have a similar reaction when monolingual Gringos intrude upon them.

Charles Collom said...

I don't think it is racism. I think it is (if any -ism) classism. If all the immigrants moving to the US were upper middle class English speakers no one would care. In California we're forced to compete against each other for the scarce resources being doled out by the government, and the poor are seen as consuming a greater amount of these resources. Example: When the governor signs the DREAM act allowing little illegal immigrants to go to public university without paying out of state tuition, it irritates the average citizen who see their fees go up.

Charles Collom said...

It looks like Bryan Fischer will see my classism and raise it racism.


Max said...

If the immigrants were from Denmark (i.e. white, Christian, middle class, fluent in English), there would be no problem. It's not the immigration, it's the immigrants.

Of course Republicans don't want to say "we hate Mexicans" - that would be terrible politics (not only with Hispanics, but with whites too who don't want to think of themselves as mean). So the emphasis is on illegality, which is a plausible cover for the unspeakable real issues of race/culture/language/class/etc.

TheVidra said...

Maybe Americans from both parties in general are afraid of a massive influx of people with a different culture, especially in light of what is happening in Western Europe (where a minority is breeding faster than the established population, and is also trying to impose its cultural values by force). Maybe this fear is exacerbated by the fact that immigrants are encouraged to be vocal and demand their rights nowadays, as opposed to the meek attitude of the previous waves of immigrants who were processed at Ellis Island. Maybe there is a fear that a massive influx of low skilled uneducated people would affect society negatively - nobody is complaining about the Chinese immigrants or the overwhelming numbers of foreigners in the hard science departments at universities. Despite this political sentiment, as a former immigrant to the US, and having traveled to many places around the world, I find Americans (including those in the Bible Belt) as some of the most welcoming and tolerant people to foreigners – despite the seeming intolerance painted by the media.

I think this rhetorical intolerance is exacerbated during election season, but does not reflect popular sentiment. If there had been real political will for dealing with illegal immigration, it would have been dealt with many times over. I have observed this cycle in the Washington DC suburbs for 20 years: every election season there is some rousing language (and a few raids at Seven Elevens where Central American laborers wait for work), then society turns a blind eye until the next election. I cannot think of anyone (including politicians) living inside the Beltway who has not had some service performed by an illegal immigrant, whether lawn care, household repairs, haircut, nanny care etc. Illegal immigration is out in the open, and everyone tolerates it.

Anonymous said...

Minor correction. The libertarian wing of the Republican party did argue for substantial revision to immigration laws, essentially proposing to revive the guest worker program and make it unlimited and open to all. But, since they represent only 10-20% of the Republican party and are in wide disagreement with party leadership, their position went nowhere.

Randall M. said...

A lot of confusion comes from viewing the Republican Party's position on immigrants as monolithic, when it is not. The South dominates the Republican Party, and it is Southern Republicans who are the most anti-immigrant (as well as areas settled largely by Southerners, such as Arizona). I don't think it's that they're consciously racist, but English-speaking Danish immigrants are much closer to "us" than Spanish-speaking Central American immigrants. In contrast, New York City Republicans who come from a different cultural tradition--one that includes and even celebrates ethnic and religious diversity--are not leading this charge.

brendan said...

The confusion about what motivates conservative opposition to immigration is that few conservatives have the nerve to be honest about it. Many simply believe that different peoples build different kinds of societies. They think that a white minority US means a US that looks more like Latin America in terms of crime, wealth, values and politics.

jimbino said...

Part of the problem involves our immigration policy favoring "family reunification."

Once a Mexican gets residence here, he can start bringing in wife, parents and all those kids who will compete with White kids for the education and welfare dollars we steal in taxes from the single and childfree.

Asians don't suffer from the same bias, because we feel that they got in here because of their brains or accomplishments; they won't be seen standing near the lumber exit of Home Depot in threatening groups; they don't breed like rabbits and they aren't Roman Catholic.

I'm Hispanic myself, and my biggest beef about fellow Hispanics, from Mexico to Paraguay, is that they are never seen to read a book! Argentines are a major exception; but generally, if you see someone reading a book or newspaper in a restaurant or on an inter-city bus in Latin America, he will turn out to be a German or American tourist.

I don't know why, but the Latin culture seems to be one that wallows in under-education and under-achievement in stark contrast to Chinese, Japanese and Indian cultures.

One explanation is Latin America's pervasive Roman Catholic culture that has historically banned books, including the Bible, and that still generally considers a little learning a dangerous thing, favoring superstition over science and opposing, as it does, the handing out of condoms and birth control information to 11-year-olds in Brazil.

I wonder if the Argentines would be reading at all if it weren't for the liberation provided through Gutenberg and Luther.

The White Europeans probably suffer from a similar animus against their Turks and Arabs, whose historical culture maintained the wisdom of the Greeks and Romans and helped give us arithmetic. Nowadays, the Muslims among them, at least, are known to be murderously against books and education.

What puzzles me is that the Argentines, Chileans and Uruguayans have literacy rates approaching 100%, while the China and India are among the most illiterate countries in the world.

But I think an American is more or less correct when he perceives immigration of an Asian as raising the literacy, education-level and industry of the country, while that of a Latin as lowering them. This situation would be greatly improved if we killed off the immigration policy favoring "family reunification," explicitly welcoming only the educated and skilled immigrant, as New Zealand does.

lgjhere said...

Given the topic of immigrants in recent elections, an interesting new book that helps explain the role, struggles, and contributions of immigrants and minorities is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understand crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more.” It paints a revealing picture of America for those who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also informs Americans who want to learn more about the U.S. and how we compare to other countries around the world on many issues.
As the book points out, immigrants and minorities are a major force in America, as the GOP recently discovered. Immigrants and the children they bear account for 60 percent of our nation’s population growth and own 11 percent of US businesses and are 60 percent more likely to start a new business than native-born Americans. They represent 17 percent of all new business owners (in some states more than 30 percent). Foreign-born business owners generate nearly one-quarter of all business income in California and nearly one-fifth in the states of New York, Florida, and New Jersey.
Legal immigrants number 850,000 each year; undocumented (illegal) immigrants are estimated to be half that number. They come to improve their lives and create a foundation of success for their children to build upon, as did the author’s grandparents when they landed at Ellis Island in 1899 after losing 2 children to disease on a cramped cattle car-like sailing from Europe. Many bring skills and a willingness to work hard to make their dreams a reality, something our founders did four hundred years ago. In describing America, chapter after chapter identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and contributed to our society. However, most struggle in their efforts and need guidance, be they in Beantown or Anytown, USA. Perhaps intelligent immigration reform, concerned Americans, and even this book and others can extend a helping hand. www.AmericaAtoZ.com

Christopher Chang said...

Most of them don't directly relate to your question, but I recommend reading BK's comments at Open Borders: The Case; there is an awful lot of good stuff there. (The actual blog proprietors are a bit uneven at present.)

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

I think concerns about immigrants coming here and competing for jobs or living on the welfare state are two big reasons for the hostility to immigrants.

There's another reason Republicans are concerned about immigrants and want them to assimilate:

"It is not immigration policy that creates the strong bond between Hispanics and the Democratic party, but the core Democratic principles of a more generous safety net, strong government intervention in the economy, and progressive taxation. Hispanics will prove to be even more decisive in the victory of Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which raised upper-income taxes and the sales tax, than in the Obama election."


Whether that's true or not I suppose is an open question.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's because immigrants from, say, Mexico as opposed to those from Denmark, tend to be fairly poor, and thus more likely to vote Democrat than Republican. Certainly, in my native UK there is among conservatives and (worryingly) even among libertarians a lot of anger about immigration, at least some of which appears to stem from liberalising measures being perceived as the Labour party creating new left-wing voters.

Newt said...

The current republican party is about keeping a white male majority in power. Any form of non-white immigration detracts from that power.

jdgalt said...

I have several Republican friends and have asked them why. The substantive answers boil down to these two.

1. They believe illegal migrants commit more crimes than US citizens (pretty much disproven by easy-to-find statistics, unless you count as "crimes" things the illegals are forced to do such as driving without a license).

2. They believe illegal migrants consume more welfare services than citizens and don't pay taxes (both also easily disproven by statistics).

Full disclosure: I work for an accounting firm which has helped several illegals keep their taxes paid and prove it (which they have to do before they can apply to become citizens by the "anchor baby" method).

The Sanity Inspector said...

Su casa es mi casa ahora, amigo!

Benjamin. said...

Well, I'm a Republican and I wouldn't presume either of those things. I'm not sure why someone would think them true.

Benjamin. said...

Newt, it is interesting you say that the goal of the current Republican Party is to keep the white male majority in power, because there are
Republicans of other races. Of course these are a minority. Nonetheless such people exist.

Benjamin. said...

Well, I'm a Republican and I wouldn't presume either of those things. I'm not sure why someone would think them true.

Benjamin. said...

OK. I'll be quite straight forward here, and perhaps it will sound rude but it ought to be said
-having a student- one you admire- come from a family the immigrated illegally does not support, unless I misunderstand, your argument.
I emphasize again my wish that legal immigration be easier. A person immigrated illegally can still be an admirable person, but I do not think that is the real debate. For one thing it is odd for an opposing side to form the argument of another side. Is there yet one comment here from a person claiming that illegal immigrants are taking all of our welfare? I don't think so.

Eitan said...

Xenophobia is not difficult to explain; it's as natural as it is foolish. The interesting question you raise is why isn't there more agitation against immigrants from labor unions?

Laird said...

I'm in agreement that we need more immigration, not less: more absolute numbers permitted to enter, and a more liberal guest-worker policy. But I also agree with the Republican stance (I'm not a Republican) that illegal entry, especially on such a massive scale, should not be tolerated, let alone rewarded. If a "country" means anything at all, it means the right to decide whom to admit within its borders. Having open borders renders the entire concept of a country meaningless.

And while I don't argue that illegals consume "all of our welfare", they do consume resources disproportionate to their economic contributions. They are a drain on our health care system, a heavy burden on our schools, and add to the costs of an already unsustainable welfare system. Much of that could be cured with an intelligent guest-worker program: if they didn't have to bring their families when coming across the border looking for work (which is necessitated by the difficulty of getting back here should they ever return home), but rather could come and go as seasonal work requires, their families would probably be happier to remain at home, in familiar surroundings and near friends and relatives, and thus not be a drain on our social services. Such workers would be a clear benefit to our economy.

My understanding is that such used to be the case: we didn't have a formal guest-worker program, but rather an informal one where we simply turned a blind eye to seasonal worker migrations. That changed in the 1970's, when people (notably Republicans) first began to agitate for stricter immigration controls. We need to return to something like that policy.

David Friedman said...

Laird wrote:

"Having open borders renders the entire concept of a country meaningless."

The U.S. had effectively open borders for most of its history. It's true that immigrants at Ellis Island were checked for disease, but Ellis Island was only established as a federal immigration point--the first such--in 1890. Were there any controls at all before that?

"And while I don't argue that illegals consume "all of our welfare", they do consume resources disproportionate to their economic contributions. They are a drain on our health care system, a heavy burden on our schools, and add to the costs of an already unsustainable welfare system."

What's your evidence for that? I would guess that it's the other way around. Immigrants are predominantly young and healthy, and are limited in their ability to collect government benefits by the need to keep a low profile.

Can you point me at any actual statistical evidence that they collect more from government than they pay to it?

brendan said...

John David Galt:

Where are those stats? I know hispanic Americans as a whole do commit more crime and consume more welfare than non-hispanics. Is it illegals in particular that are no more crime/welfare prone?

brendan said...

From wikipedia:

"The 1790 Act limited naturalization to "free white persons"; it was expanded to include blacks in the 1860s and Asians in the 1950s."

And then in 1965 racial origins preferences were abolished.

So Europeans have almost always been free to come, blacks for more than a hundred years, Asians for decades as well. But we don't share a border w/ any of those countries and it was harder to get around back then. So while policy was effectively open border, functionally it was not.

John Galt says illegals behave as well as citizens, but I'm pretty sure he's wrong. I've seen studies that say hispanics (I know, different than illegals) commit no more crime than natives when socieconomic factors have been controlled for. That's promising, but different than what he's claiming. In my home state of CT hispanics (mostly puerto rican) are incarcerated at 10x the white rate. Hartford is a shithole compared to what it was 50 years ago. That's the stuff that makes folks restrictionist.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Illegals would be more economically productive if they weren't subject to rules designed to cripple them eonomically and didn't need to be inconspicuous to avoid deportation.

Is there any way to test the hypothesis that anti-immigrant sentiment is at least partially a preference for causing pain?

David Friedman said...

"But we don't share a border w/ any of those countries and it was harder to get around back then. So while policy was effectively open border, functionally it was not."

As far as I can tell, there were no immigration restrictions on immigration from Mexico until relatively recently--well after the numerical restrictions on European immigration.

jdgalt said...

@brendan: For starters,

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