Amnesty: An Electoral Disaster
Increased immigration and amnesty will hurt the Republican party, not save it.


John O’Sullivan

Consider their underlying demographics. Three-fourths of Hispanic voters are U.S.-born. Of households headed by U.S.-born Hispanics that have children, 50 percent are headed by unmarried women, compared with 29 percent of U.S.-born whites. Of households headed by U.S.-born Hispanics, 40 percent use one or more major welfare programs, compared to 19 percent of U.S.-born whites. Of households headed by U.S.-born Hispanics, 45 percent have no federal income-tax liability, compared to 29 percent of U.S.-born whites. These statistics explain their liberalism far better than any party’s immigration policy. They also make the Republican message on anything — thank you, James Chapin — a very tough sell.

Could it be that despite these statistics Hispanics are still natural Republicans because, as the mantra goes, they are hard-working, family-oriented, and entrepreneurial? Well, this tempts me . . . Is hard work really the first thing that springs to mind when we think of the modern Republican party? Do Republicans really work harder than Democrats (especially at the lower end of the job market)? And are Hispanics, whether U.S.-born or immigrants, likely to identify more with Republican small-business owners than with unionized service workers? These questions answer themselves. Republican arguments of this kind show minds so corrupted by sloganizing and sound bites that they no longer think what the words they use really mean.

Of course, most Americans work hard and love their families and there are thousands of business owners from every ethnic group. But the Census data show that Hispanic natives are less likely to be married, to hold jobs, to own their own businesses, or to pay federal income tax than the non-Hispanic whites from whom the GOP draws most of its votes. They are also more likely to live in poverty and access welfare programs. Such facts are not eternal truths; they can change over time, quickly for individuals, more slowly for population groups. But so long as they exist, they make it very difficult for the GOP — a party whose central message is self-sufficiency, lower taxes, and traditional family values — to appeal to Hispanic voters. Add in the fact that Hispanics benefit from liberals’ race-specific policies, such as affirmative action. Or will the GOP become the party of ethnic preferences, as Chapin would predict, in order to ensure Hispanic support?

Again, the plain fact is that Hispanic Americans are a natural liberal-Democratic constituency, with or without an amnesty or an open-borders immigration policy. If you still doubt this, consider the case of Puerto Ricans. All are American citizens at birth, so they do not directly face immigration issues. Yet they are the most reliably Democratic of all Hispanic voters.

Faced with this discouraging prospect, Republicans take refuge in optimism. They forecast that, like the Italians, the Irish, and the Eastern Europeans, Hispanic-Americans will become Republican in greater numbers over time. That may well happen. But all the groups cited took between 60 and 120 years to switch from the Democratic party to the GOP. It was one result (and one indicator) of their assimilation. And they melted more quickly into the great American majority because a restrictive immigration policy was in place during that time which, along with “Americanization” and World War II, discouraged the maintenance of separate ethnic identities and encouraged national unity.

Today, instead, we have mass immigration and multiculturalism. One result of this combination means any switch of Hispanics to the GOP is counterbalanced by the arrival of new immigrants who share the liberal-Democratic interests and opinions of most Hispanic Americans. In short we are importing Democrat voters. Another result is that Spanish-speaking ethno-cultural enclaves grow, prosper, and retard the assimilation of those who live in them. New immigrants participate in American politics under the guidance of overwhelmingly liberal Hispanic elites (e.g., journalists, community leaders, politicians). It takes longer for them to shake off a Democratic partisanship that is reinforced by ethnic loyalty. In short we are preserving Democratic voters. This does not mean Hispanics are a lost cause for Republicans. What it does mean is that adding millions of new Hispanic voters is likely to postpone electoral victories for conservatives for many decades.

Republican leaders, at the behest of the business community, have supported mass immigration since the 1960s. Conservatives are struggling to deal with the long-term consequences of that decision. Embracing amnesty and continued or more rapid mass immigration will make things even worse for the party. Advocates of small government must figure out how to gain more support from those who are sympathetic to their message. But given the new electorate that mass immigration is creating, this will be no easy task. Without changes in immigration policy, it will be all but impossible.

So those who say we need comprehensive immigration reform are correct — it’s simply not the reform they advocate. What we need is an immigration reform that would benefit America. Conservatives in Congress could draw up such a bill in very short order. The American people would then have a choice between two different immigration reforms. If nothing else, this would educate them, and the Republican establishment especially, in some surprising realities of current immigration.

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