We have many disagreements with our friends on the open-borders Right, but we have to give them credit for sheer doggedness. There is not an election that is immune from their inventive interpretations. Every one, it turns out, is a mandate for more immigration, for “earned citizenship” and the like. If a pro-immigration Republican just barely hangs on in a primary against an underfunded, single-issue restrictionist; if a restrictionist loses an election at the same time everyone else in his party, regardless of his position on immigration, is losing; if a restrictionist Republican wins his own reelection but cannot get an open-borders Republican to win the following election; if voters try their hardest to kill official bilingualism: In each and every case, the voters have shown that they favor mass immigration.
For years, the immigration lobby has pointed to California as an example of the supposed dangers of Republicans’ standing in the way of the immigration-driven transformation of the country. This tale depends on a series of obvious misreadings of the recent political history of California. Last week, our friends acquired a new myth. The 2006 elections were, on their telling, a decisive rejection of immigration control.
The myth is being spread by veteran pro-immigration conservatives such as Fred Barnes, Michael Barone, Linda Chavez, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, along with Tamar Jacoby and Arlen Specter. The White House, an easy sell for this kind of thing, appears to have bought it, judging from clues in the news coverage of the appointment of Sen. Mel Martinez as general chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The centerpiece of this myth is Arizona, where enforcement hardliner J. D. Hayworth lost his reelection bid and the likeminded Randy Graf lost his campaign to succeed a Republican congressman. Sometimes the spinners throw in Rick O’Donnell’s loss of a marginal Republican seat in Colorado.
Time for a reality check. This year’s anti-Republican wave was indiscriminate, washing away such immigration hawks as John Hostettler and Charles Taylor, but also such amnesty supporters as Mike DeWine and Lincoln Chafee. In other places, Republicans were able to withstand the wave in part because they opposed amnesty: Chris Shays was the only Republican congressman to survive in Connecticut, and Pete King kept his seat in New York.
Some of the victorious Democrats favored enforcement first. James Webb, whose victory tipped the Senate, is one of them. Another is Hostettler’s opponent, Brad Ellsworth. Harold Ford, who stunned everyone by nearly winning a Senate seat from Tennessee, opposed amnesty.
Even in Arizona, Sen. Jon Kyl, who voted against the open-borders bill, beat a Democratic candidate who supported it. Arizona voters also approved, by wide margins, three ballot measures cracking down on illegal immigration, plus one declaring English the state’s official language. The Journal noted only the last of these, writing that it “suggests to us that what Americans want isn’t so much restricted immigration as it is a culture of assimilation.” We continue to find the Journal’s breezy confidence that continuous mass immigration, much of it from a single source, can coexist with a “culture of assimilation.” But the state’s voters were clearly also saying that they want tougher policies against illegal immigration.
A final piece of mythology concerns the Hispanic vote. Exit polling found that 30 percent of Hispanics voted for Republican House candidates, down from 38 percent in the 2002 midterms. To see the significance of this drop, it has to be put in context. The percentage of white voters who picked Republicans fell from 58 to 51 percent over the same period. Hispanics just followed the national trend.
It is probably true that Graf’s monomaniacal focus on immigration contributed to his defeat; unlike some others, we are willing to acknowledge facts inconvenient to our political desires. But the balance of the evidence suggests that restrictionism can be a politically valuable element of a conservative platform.
Senator Martinez was a lead sponsor of the amnesty bill that the Senate approved earlier this year, without the votes of most Republicans. His immigration views appear to be part of the rationale for his selection. A Center for Immigration Studies analysis of the bill, extrapolating from the experience of the 1986 amnesty, conservatively estimated that more than 14 million people would gain legal status and move toward citizenship because of the measure’s various amnesty provisions —- and this estimate didn’t even take into account the bill’s huge increases in future legal immigration.
So the White House’s answer to last week’s losses appears to be to pass a bill that most Republicans dislike, in the service of a policy that will import more Democratic voters to the country. Get ready for a long spell in the minority.