Amnesty? Not So Fast
Republicans must avoid another self-inflicted demographic wound.


John O’Sullivan

And if the GOP gave the Democrats cover on loosening immigration control, some conservatives gave the GOP cover. Much though I like and generally agree with such conservative activists as Linda Chavez, Spencer Abraham, and Grover Norquist, it was their intellectual support for almost-open borders that almost established them in 2006 and 2007 — just as they had been important in preventing legislation based on the Jordan Commission’s proposals a decade earlier. Almost all of them are now members of the new GOP coalition that is gradually assembling to propose a new round of liberalization measures. Since they were wrong before — indeed, since their opposition to the Jordan Commission helped to create the current demographic crisis for Republicans — we should surely look on any new proposal from them with a distinctly jaundiced eye. 

Their headline proposal is, of course, the legalization of the 12 million illegals already here. (Other proposals we’ll come to later.) Here, their argument is that Latinos, Asians, and other voters will never support Republicans in any number if we make illegal immigrants who share their ethnicity feel unwelcome and even threatened by deportation. That argument is not entirely false. Some ethnic voters, whether U.S.-born or legal immigrants, will be strongly influenced by this, others weakly, but it will be one of several factors pushing such voters as a group towards the Democrats. Other factors will push them towards the GOP; for instance, Republicans generally get between a quarter and a third of Latino votes. Those voters have their reasons too. 


Nothing at all will change if the GOP — as some of its “moderates” argue it should — supports an amnesty for illegals, allowing them to stay in the U.S., but denies them citizenship and the vote. Democrats and Latino activists will merely ground their charge that Republicans are anti-immigrant in the citizenship issue rather than the illegality one. Republicans will face exactly the same criticism as now, but against a background of wider publicity, without the solid “rule of law” argument they can cite when they oppose amnesty. Indeed, they would find themselves arguing the unsustainable case that immigration and citizenship should accommodate a permanent class of migrants without political rights. Eventually either the GOP would yield to political clamor and consent to citizenship for the amnestied or the courts would insist on one by degrees. So the end result of amnesty would be citizenship for 12 million poor, mainly Latino, migrant workers with a grudge against the GOP.

Here is a rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation of what that alone might mean. Let’s assume that only two-thirds of former illegals become U.S. citizens — that’s 8 million new Americans with the vote. (Given the Democrats’ determination to protect voter fraud, that might also mean somewhat more than 8 million new voters, but we won’t consider that in what follows.) Since these voters are poorer and less assimilated than Latinos as a whole, they will likely skew more Democratic than their ethnic fellows. Republicans would be optimistic if they counted on winning more than one-fifth of them — i.e., 1.6 million voters. On a 100 percent turnout, that would give the Democrats a net advantage of 4.4 million votes. On a more realistic assumption that these new voters would have a lower than average turnout — say, 50 percent — that would give the Democrats an net additional 2.2 million votes over Republicans. Those assumptions are fallible, admittedly, but they are not unrealistic.

So the bar that any advocate of amnesty has to meet is as follows: He must demonstrate how amnesty will ensure that the GOP also gains at least a net 2.2 million votes, plus one, as a result of the reform. I will examine some of their claims to this effect — and other aspects of this question — on Wednesday.

John O’Sullivan is editor-at-large of National Review.