Politics & Policy

A Costly Debate

Memo to the restrictionists: Mass deportation is a deal breaker.

Congratulations to my Critics Five: Glynn Custred, John Fonte, Mark Krikorian, Heather Mac Donald, and Rep. Lamar Smith. Each responded to my National Review article describing the consequences of a Republican policy of mass deportation without using the words “deportation” or “removal”; without discussing a single problem associated with rupturing 6.6 million “illegal” families containing 15 million individuals, 4.9 million children, and 3.5 million American citizens; without explaining how the pro-life movement will survive the mass alienation of its fastest-growing demographic; or why the employers of 7 million illegals would willingly rat them out.

Instead, I have been treated to lectures on the evils of lawlessness, balkanization, and unrestricted mass migration, none of which I advocate.

So I’ll restate my thesis. If conservative Republicans continue to advocate the mass removal of resident illegals, our candidates will lose Hispanic vote share — to the point where our performance among Hispanics mirrors that among African Americans. If conservative Republicans continue to advocate the mass removal of resident illegals, our business support will erode — not to levels typical of a congressional minority, but to levels reflecting a fundamental shift of interests favoring the Democrats.

#ad#Hispanics and business groups do not reject Republican immigration policy because they are open-border fanatics. They reject it because it threatens them directly. “Enforcement only,” even gussied up as “enforcement first,” has two immediate targets: the illegals themselves, and their employers. Eighty percent of resident illegals are Hispanic. The place where the illegal world of border jumping intersects the legal world of contractual employment is the workplace. “Enforcement only” means mass expulsion of illegals, with their employers — the people who want them here — enlisted under duress as deportation cops.


Some of my critics evidently believe that I have overstated the GOP’s recent Hispanic losses, and/or the relation of such losses to Republican immigration policy.

How obvious does a fact have to be? When you lose 30 votes per 100 cast by a major demographic in a single presidential cycle, that is a political earthquake. And that is what happened to Republican vote share among Hispanics, 2004 to 2008.

The massive Pew Hispanic Center poll on “Hispanics and the Transformation of American Religion” found that 41 percent of Hispanic citizens (who outnumber illegals three to one) fear a deportation procedure against a friend or family member.

How do my critics think such a prospect would play in their churches? The 2008 Zogby post-election poll for the Federation for American Immigration Reform showed that 61 percent of the new Hispanic supermajority voting Democratic “agree with Senator Obama that illegal immigrants should be granted amnesty and a pathway to citizenship, and it was one of the factors that led me to vote for him.”

Additional statistics are abundant. But do my critics really need them? I have yet to meet a conservative who doesn’t understand the dynamic of the Elián González incident in 2000 — how a SWAT team, on orders from a Democratic attorney general, invaded an ordinary Cuban home and tore a screaming child from the arms of his protector. That sight, revisited nightly in Little Havana, carried Florida (and the presidency) for George W. Bush.

Today, Hispanics are treated to dozens of Elián González incidents on the nightly newscasts of Univision, Telemundo, and Azteca. Only now, the villains are Republicans rather than Clintonistas.

Given this bombardment, it is irrelevant that Hispanic opinion on immigration levels, benefits for illegals, and official English are fairly similar to those of the general public. Mass deportation is a deal breaker. The linked prospects of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, persecuted clergy, ruptured families, and mass profiling spooks the legal, working-class Hispanic. It is the GOP platform plan to remove the 12 million illegals among them that turns the Hispanic vote from “leans Democratic” to Democrat-dominated.


Here are a couple of typical examples of how this played out on the campaign trail in 2008. Democrat Alan Grayson, campaigning (successfully) against GOP incumbent Ric Keller, in Florida’s 8th Congressional District (Hispanic population 17.6 percent), said:

Ric Keller and the U.S. House of Representatives have passed a bill [H.R. 4437] that makes it a felony to provide any help to an illegal alien.

If your brother is an illegal alien, and he is living with you, you go to prison.

If you are a priest, and your church helps to feed a hungry illegal alien, you go to prison.

If you give a quarter to a homeless man, and he’s an illegal alien, you go to prison.

That’s crazy! But Ric Keller voted for it, and the law passed in the House of Representatives.

No wonder millions of people are protesting, both in Orlando and all around the country.

In Florida, the GOP’s 2008 Latino vote share declined 14 percent from the past presidential cycle.

Speaking before the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, Dana Titus, who unseated Republican incumbent Jon Porter in the Nevada 3rd, described the same “enforcement only” bill as an act “to make criminals out of doctors, teachers, social workers, priests and employers, anyone who helps an undocumented person; and I’m pretty sure that would include a lot of you in this room.” The Las Vegas Review Journal described her reception: “Latin Chamber of Commerce Cheers for Titus.”

In Nevada, the Republican Latino vote share declined 17 percent.

It is abundantly clear to Hispanics that “enforcement only” means mass deportation, and mass trauma. But our conservative homeboys don’t know this, because you heroes won’t say it. You won’t even say the word.


There’s a reverse side to this. Some of my critics assumed that whatever political loss Republicans sustained among Hispanics would be offset by gains among white and black voters infuriated by Hispanic illegals.

It didn’t happen. As a connoisseur of immigration polls, I was unsurprised. By the time of the election, only 2 percent of the electorate listed immigration as a primary concern. Immigration ran behind jobs and the economy (considered together or separately); it ran behind taxes, terrorism, the war in Iraq, morals and family values, health care, education, and abortion.

But after the 2008 election, even I was amazed at how poorly restrictionists had fared. In “The Edge of the Wedge,” I analyzed the 90 most competitive House races of 2008. Candidates endorsed by Americans for Better Immigration (a NumbersUSA affiliate) or the Eagle Forum PAC (now virulently pro-deportation), as well as members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus (a “pro-enforcement” group of House incumbents), underperformed their party-mates.

But what’s the surprise? You could stuff the delegates won by GOP presidential candidates Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter into a moderate-sized phone booth with room to spare.

Here is an ICE-y fact, for you, O Critics Five, regrading the American public: They’re just not that into you.


Regarding my thesis that Republican deportation policy undermines business support, my critics variously applaud the loss (Custred) or dismiss the claim (Krikorian).

Both responses are fatuous. In numerous states, extensive, well-funded coalitions of businesses have grown specifically to fight an “enforcement only” approach to immigration, and to advocate comprehensive reform, including guest-worker programs and a path to legalization.

Congressman Smith’s home state provides a great example of one of the largest: the Texas Employers for Immigration Reform (TEIR).

TEIR’s “Principles for Immigration Reform” states:

We support comprehensive immigration reform that:

‐Facilitates the employment of essential workers by U.S. companies and organizations through a market-driven system of temporary workers. . . .

‐Strengthens national security by providing for the screening of foreign workers and creating a disincentive for illegal immigration. . . .

‐Allows hard-working, tax-paying undocumented workers to earn legal status.


Aside from Custred’s hated chambers of commerce (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, etc.), TEIR’s member organizations include the Texas Agriculture Cooperative Council, the Texas Association of Builders, the Texas Association of Dairymen, the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, the Texas Citrus Mutual, the Texas Cotton Ginners Association, the Texas Farm Bureau, the Texas Forestry Association, the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association, the Texas Pork Producers Association, the Texas Poultry Federation and Affiliates, the Texas Vegetable Association, the Texas Restaurant Association, the Texas Retailers Association, the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the Texas State Florists Association, and the Texas Travel Industry Association.

Similar organizations exist in Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Arizona, and Oklahoma. And if one bothers to research the blizzard of lawsuits launched by business groups in these states and dozens of others, one begins to understand the extent of business fury at the “conservative” demand that immigration reform deal with “enforcement only” or “enforcement first.”

#ad#The Right’s self-censorship on the growing chasm between the self-proclaimed guarantors of free enterprise and the practitioners thereof is occasionally breached by a diligent reporter. David Freddoso described the tensions within the Arizona GOP on National Review Online:

The state party has also suffered from the prominence of the immigration issue. Far from energizing Arizona’s Republican Party, it has served as a wedge between business owners and immigration hawks. Business owners, who could normally be expected to help Republicans, are putting their money and efforts this year into Proposition 202. The measure would weaken a 2007 state law that punishes those found hiring illegal immigrants by revoking their business licenses. . . . With the party’s internecine war in full swing, one Republican official notes that “fundraising has dried up completely. At Republican district meetings a few years ago, you’d get 100 people attending, especially during a close election. Now you get six or eight people. There’s really no ground game for Republicans at all.”

It is clear to business organizations that enforcement without comprehensive reform is unjust, disruptive, and in some instances fatal to the operations of commerce.

But our conservative homeboys don’t know it, because you heroes won’t discuss it.


Heather, you criticize me as an opponent of law and order. But you pick and choose among the immigration laws that you wish to enforce.

Federal immigration statutes are, by universal agreement, absurd. The law, as it applies to employers, encourages the hiring of illegals by making document fraud child’s play. I took pains in my article to cite the actual warnings on the I-9 form. Employers are told that they must accept school IDs, report cards, and work visas scheduled to expire, and that they are liable to lawsuits if they do not. But border jumping is punishable by deportation.

These laws scarcely inhabit the same policy universe. Their coexistence is a tribute to the insanity of avoiding comprehensive immigration reform.

You say you want to enforce existing immigration law, but you don’t. You want to change it, so that it can be enforced against a work force that was legally hired. The overwhelming majority of “illegals” were properly processed by their employers under existing I-9 procedures. Unmasking the frauds incentivized by these procedures will require new statutes. This reflects your policy preference for deportation, not your superior commitment to law. 

Employers want to change existing law too. But they would give visas to existing foreign workers, and implement stricter verification standards going forward. That is their policy preference.

Major employers depend on the work force you want to deport — employees on whom they have expended time, training, and trust.

What form of restitution do you offer to entire industries that face destruction by the mass expulsion of low-cost migrant labor? What are you planning to do for these major exporters — the ranchers, farmers, food processors, and meat packers whose associations continually litigate to block mass deportation? How are you going to address the multitude of urban-renewal developments built on low-cost hospitality services?


We conservatives spent years fighting environmentalists who applied retroactive joint-and-severable liability standards to businesses that had not polluted, but who partnered, however legally, with those who had. How is this expropriation of work agreements, endangering entire industries, morally different? How is it more principled?

More to the point, Heather: Why won’t you acknowledge the problem?


John, you have done yourself an injustice. In other forums, your exposition of patriotic assimilation — spiritual self-identification of American citizens with the principles of the Founders — is far more profound than the grab bag of balkanization symptoms you present in your critique.

#ad#But if I wanted to design a project to accelerate the balkanization you descry — one that would alienate American citizens by the millions from their history and heritage — I could not improve upon the program of mass deportation that you advocate. Your arguments are far more dangerous to patriotic assimilation than a busload of Aztec-worshipping, raza-ranting, native-recidivist junior-college professors.


Glynn, in your 2000 American Spectator article “Alien Crossings,” you laid out the problems associated with an unregulated border as well as anyone — the property damage, the banditry, the drug trade, and the abuse of the defenseless border jumpers themselves. It’s genuinely sad to see how unhinged you’ve become toward the business community in the intervening years.

There are solid reasons why every one of the nine congressional districts on the U.S.–Mexican border is represented by an advocate of comprehensive immigration reform. People who live along the border are both the victims and beneficiaries of the free flow of labor. The “low cost” immigrant labor you deride as exploitation in fact supports millions of higher-value-added American jobs. And it does so on this side of the border. When Republican Randy Graff ran for Congress on a deportation platform in Arizona’s 8th, he couldn’t even carry Maricopa County, the Anglo-dominant region that is ground zero for the open-border abuses you describe.

You say that “the only thing conservatives should ask the Chamber of Commerce and its constituents” is that they impose your enforcement-only regime and get rid of their current undocumented work force. Instead of partners in regulating the border, you now have a host of newly minted enemies.

Business is not hostile to a regulated border. But you can’t diss their legitimate concerns and expect their cooperation.


Congressman Smith, your cursory reading of the academic literature on immigration would be amusing were it not so widely shared.

For starters, don’t cite authorities as supportive of your immigration position who disagree with you. The primary author of the “Borjas” study, James Hanson, former chief economist at the Department of Labor, regards immigration as a net benefit for the U.S. economy, but as a temporary drag on one sector of it. He recommends targeted aid to displaced workers, not restrictions on immigrant labor.

You accuse me of making “economic errors” that have been unmasked. To date, not a single academic paper has challenged my basic findings: that throughout the immigration rush of 2000 to 2007, high-immigration states experienced growth significantly superior to low-immigration states in gross state product, personal income, disposable income, and median income.

You explain the local benefit away, stating that “the negative impact of immigration is spread throughout the country when natives leave high immigration states in response to the influx.”

But that didn’t happen, as you, a Texan, should know. States that attracted high levels of foreign immigrants generally attracted even higher levels of American-citizen migrants. States with freer markets in low-cost labor added higher-value-added jobs as well — which is why they generally outperformed low-immigration states in median-income and workforce-participation categories. In Texas, for instance, the influx of foreign immigrants accounted for 3.6 percent of population growth from 2000 to 2006, while non-immigrant growth accounted for 9.1 percent.


As to your contention that pro-enforcement Republicans were replaced by pro-enforcement Democrats, it is a canard devoid of meaning. There are no Democrats who oppose enforcement. However, as I demonstrated in “The Edge of the Wedge,” they insist on enacting enforcement as part of a package that includes guest-worker provisions. I calculate that in 2008, Democratic supporters of a comprehensive approach netted 14 new partisans in the House, and five in the Senate. 

I propose a Darwinian solution to this particular debate: Next year at this time, we can compare how NumbersUSA rates these “freshmen” against the Republican incumbents they replaced.  

#ad#In a state that is 32 percent Hispanic, it is going to be increasingly difficult to draw “safe” districts like yours, where advocates of mass deportation can hide from reality. Perhaps after the redistricting of 2010, you can join J. D. Hayworth on the talk-show circuit, where we can discuss your economic ideas in greater detail.


Mark, there is little you have written on immigration over the past ten years that I wouldn’t dispute. But I have little to say regarding your critique of “At What Cost?” You ignored what I wrote, choosing instead to brand me an advocate of unlimited mass migration, which you proceeded to attack. But I am not an advocate of unlimited mass migration. So I’ll limit myself to a single caveat: The forward-looking policy you propose — one that is pro-immigrant but anti-immigration — is impossible unless you drop your obsession with deporting most or all resident illegals.

I hardly expect you to accept this. Viewing the body of your work, I believe that mass deportation is in fact your primary interest.


I understand why conservative opponents of comprehensive immigration reform avoid discussing “mass deportation.” You don’t have the votes to do it. But you really should muster the guts to say it. The public deserves an honest debate.

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