People come to America because it is a remarkable oasis of freedom, prosperity, and opportunity. Conservatives recognize that the principal reason for our unique abundance is our constitutional restraint on the power of government. As Thomas Jefferson said, “In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
Maintaining this system requires the public to support limited government. In a new report, Eagle Forum details how immigration is fundamentally changing the electorate to one that is much more supportive of big government.
By itself, the annual flow of 1.1 million legal immigrants under the current system will create more than 5 million new potential voters by 2024 and more than 8 million by 2028. Congressional Budget Office projections indicate that under the Senate Gang of Eight’s S.744 bill, the total additional potential voters would rise to nearly 10 million by 2024 and 18 million by 2028. The influx of these new voters would reduce or eliminate Republicans’ ability to offer an alternative to big government, to increased government spending, to higher taxes, and to favorite liberal policies such as Obamacare and gun control.
The 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey found that 62 percent of immigrants prefer a single, government-run health-care system. The 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that 69 percent of immigrants support Obamacare. Pew also found that 53 percent of Hispanics have a negative view of capitalism, the highest of any group surveyed. This is even higher than the 47 percent among self-identified supporters of Occupy Wall Street.
The Pew Research Center has also found that 75 percent of Hispanics prefer a “bigger government providing more services,” and only 19 percent prefer a smaller government. Pew also reported that 55 percent of Asians prefer “bigger government providing more services,” and only 36 percent prefer a smaller government. So it’s no surprise that in 2012, 71 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Asians voted for Obama.
Even Republican emphasis on patriotism and national sovereignty is likely to alienate many immigrants. A Harris poll found that 81 percent of native-born Americans believe our schools should teach students to be proud of being American, compared with only 50 percent of immigrants who had become naturalized U.S. citizens. Only 37 percent of naturalized citizens (compared with 67 percent of native-born citizens) think our Constitution is a higher legal authority than international law.
While it seems that much of the Republican-party leadership has not actually looked at the policy preferences of immigrants, everyone else who has looked at the polls comes to the conclusion that significant majorities of immigrants and their children are big-government liberals. The New York Times’ Washington bureau chief admitted last year that “the two fastest-growing ethnic groups — Latinos and Asian-Americans — are decidedly liberal.” As University of Alabama political scientist George Hawley observes, “Immigrants are well to the left of the American public on a number of key issues.” He also makes clear that “liberalizing immigration will liberalize the U.S.” Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute points out that 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.”
Immigration in general — not race — is the issue. The limited data for other immigrants — including Europeans and Muslims — indicate that they, too, generally hold views well to the left of the average American voter. In fact, as discussed in our new report, for reasons largely outside the control of conservatives, immigrants and their children gravitate to left-wing parties in almost all Western countries. The problem for conservatives is not race or ethnicity but immigration as such.
Another important conclusion of our report is that there is no evidence that amnesty or inviting more immigration will produce Republican votes and abundant evidence that it will produce more Democratic votes. After Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty, George H. W. Bush received only 30 percent of the Latino vote in 1988, seven percentage points less than Reagan in 1984.
Those supporting a big increase in legal immigration point to the successful assimilation of Great Wave immigrants (roughly 1880 to 1920). But that wave was followed by a slowdown of immigration from the 1920s to the 1960s, which allowed newcomers to assimilate, learn our language, and adapt to our unique system of government. Also, Great Wave immigrants arrived before the rise of the grievance industry and identity politics. Moreover, it still took decades before a significant share of these immigrants moved into the Republican column. In the meantime, Great Wave immigrants and their children provided much of the political support necessary to pass and sustain both the New Deal and the Great Society.
It is also the case that the Republican party’s continued support of mass immigration, let alone the increases in the Gang of Eight bill, is contributing to alienating the Republican base, at least 4 million of whom stayed home in 2012.
The generally liberal views of today’s immigrants do not mean they are bad people. Most immigrants are hard working and love their families, and many are religious. Many hard-working Americans not of recent-immigrant origin who are devoted to their families also want to expand government. Nevertheless, platitudes about immigrants’ being hard working does not make them conservatives when it comes to the size and scope of government.
While Republicans should do a better job of outreach, immigrants’ generally liberal views should not be trivialized as something that can be overcome by the right 30-second TV or radio ad or by running candidates with Asian or Hispanic backgrounds. These may help, but the political values and preferences of the immigrant community are sincerely felt and not easily changed.
Conservatives should appeal to immigrants without sacrificing our principles. One way to do this is to argue that defeating the Gang of Eight bill, with its amnesty and doubling of legal immigration, would benefit the nearly 60 million American citizens (many of them immigrants) who are not working. If employers really are having trouble finding workers, the private-enterprise solution should be to raise the pay! A tight labor market is the best anti-poverty program. A reduction in immigration would also take pressure off our already overloaded health-care system and schools, and it would facilitate the assimilation of immigrants already here.
Our new report makes clear that for conservatives, there is no issue more important than reducing the number of immigrants allowed into the country each year. If legal immigration is not reduced, it will be nearly impossible for conservatives to be successful on the issues we care about.
If the Republican party is to remain a party that is conservative and nationally competitive, it must defeat amnesty and any proposed increases in legal immigration. Further, we must work to significantly reduce the number of legal immigrants allowed into the country from the current level of 1.1 million a year. There is nothing inevitable about immigration. The level and selection criteria can be changed by Congress.
Looking at the political motivation of the groups pushing higher immigration and amnesty, it’s obvious that the Democrats promote large-scale immigration because it produces more Democratic votes. If the Republican party is to remain conservative and nationally competitive, it must defeat amnesty and proposed increases in legal immigration.
— Phyllis Schlafly is the president of Eagle Forum.