Politics & Policy

Against Mass Deportation

Answers to my critics.

Critics argue that my categorical opposition to the mass deportation of illegal immigrants (“support for amnesty,” if you prefer) represents pandering to Latino and business groups and an abandonment of core conservative principles. I see it differently. Within the conservative movement, mass deportation is an alien altar, of recent origin, on which its intoxicated acolytes sacrifice their pro-family, right-to-life, free-market, and national-security principles.

The deep thinkers of the deportation movement — I mean Pat Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly, not my recent critics on NRO — envision a restructuring of the conservative movement and the Republican party, one that replaces the “fusionist” alliance of traditionalists, entrepreneurs, and defense hawks with a new alliance of traditionalists, middle-class workers, and economic nationalists. This “new” American conservatism is actually an echo of the “conservatism” of the old world, built on blood and soil, or, in Mike Savage’s formulation, borders, language, and culture. The “outreach” contemplated by advocates of this revised conservatism is ambitious in the extreme.

Its intellectual avatars experimented with various academic formulations — American civics education, official English, “fair” trade, and nativism. Each enjoyed a constituency within the conservative movement, and outside of it. But none of these formulations were “wedge issues” sufficiently powerful to effect a lasting mass realignment of working-class Democrats into either a reformed Republican party or a new “third force.” Pat Buchanan tried both. Running on this mix, he lost three dozen consecutive Republican primaries, and split the Reform party in two. (Somehow, the “peasants with pitchforks” were less dedicated to Christian doctrine than he.)

But 9/11 brought a new opportunity. Perhaps the national-security fears widely shared by all Americans could be fused with anti-immigrant, anti-capitalist, and even anti-war populism. Hispanic “invaders” and their wicked employers might be the bogeymen needed to cement the commitment of the American worker to the conservative nation-state. If talk-show passion and book sales were indicative, the mix was a sure winner. Major groups, notably the Eagle Forum, signed on to the new project, and many others went along for the ride.

The ride was short. The “conservative” project to remove an estimated 12 million illegals proved to be a wedge issue for Democrats, not Republicans. Most conservatives expected the steep decline that GOP candidates suffered among Latinos in 2008. But few anticipated the simultaneous fracturing of conservative support among groups that were neither Hispanic nor immigrant.

The sheer radicalism of mass deportation caused an anti-conservative backlash within entire industries, many of them traditionally Republican — farmers, ranchers, non-union contractors, restaurateurs, orchard horticulturalists, hospitality providers. This reaction imploded the Republican party in the Southwest and Florida, damaged it severely in the West, and weakened it everywhere.

Nevertheless, sponsors of the mass deportation campaign continue to wage a disinformation campaign to mask the meaning and magnitude of the disaster their project unleashed on the conservative movement.

Disinformation claim #1: The deportationist cause lost no ground in the 2008 election.

Even as whole sections of the country are bleached Democratic blue, Mark Krikorian and Marcus Epstein continue to circulate the myth of their obsession’s invincibility. Indeed, they have come to resemble the Black Knight of Monte Python fame, who bellows his triumph while being chopped into messes.

Krikorian and Epstein suggest that the Democrats who defeated Republicans did so as border-security hardliners. I contend that the project to remove 12 million illegals took an electoral shellacking in 2008. I will define precisely what I mean, and offer a challenge to anyone who thinks otherwise.

In the Senate, seven Republicans (eight counting Norm Coleman) who voted on June 28, 2007, to block the Bush administration’s immigration bill either retired or were defeated. Replacing these eight are five new senators clearly favorable to a comprehensive approach — six, counting Al Franken — and two whose positions are unclear. All, of course, are Democrats. The states they represent are Alaska, Colorado, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, and (perhaps) Minnesota (pending the outcome of the Coleman–Franken race). In the House, 31 seats changed party affiliation. My analysis suggests that 19 of the winners in these districts were less restrictive on immigration than their predecessors, two were more restrictive, and ten were about the same.

Marcus and Mark are fond of citing the “report card” ratings that NumbersUSA assigns to congressional candidates on the basis of their immigration actions. If they are correct — if the restrictionist cause did not lose ground in 2008 — then the NumbersUSA report cards for the new members should mirror those of the predecessors they replaced. I propose that one week before the general election of 2010, we compare the NumbersUSA ratings of these 31 House members and seven (or eight) Senate members against those of their predecessors. I’ll report the result.

Disinformation claim #2: “Attrition through enforcement” is categorically different from “mass deportation.”

Mark Krikorian makes this distinction: Instead of “roundups,” he would reduce the illegal population through “consistent, comprehensive application of the law — something we have never really attempted.”

But that is not what Mark, or any other “enforcement only” enthusiast, advocates. Mark knows full well that the applicable law must be radically changed in order to remove illegals in significant numbers. And he advocates such changes: a mandatory form of data-based employment verification; steep increases in penalties on recalcitrant employers; a vast increase in federal detention capacity; a vast increase in mandatory cooperation between recalcitrant municipal governments and federal authorities; a vast increase in the capacity of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to perform workplace raids; the criminalization of most categories of illegal residence; and the criminalization of whole new categories of harboring and assisting illegals.

The basic tools of mass removal are the same, whether one calls the process “deportation” or “attrition.” In either case, a number of forceful actions by government against illegals, their employers, and/or their sympathizers are presumed to induce mass fear among the illegals themselves, and among those who sympathize with them.

Mark is quite aware that such a strategy would trigger severe economic and social upheaval. As he writes, “If conservatives were in fact supporting the mass roundup and deportation of 11–12 million people, losing the Hispanic vote would be the least of our problems.”

He is quite correct. Mass removal of illegals would require, by definition, the termination of 7 million labor agreements between employers and employees. It would throw 6.6 million families containing 14 million individuals into crisis — families that include 4.9 million children and 3.5 million American citizens. It would bankrupt entire rural export industries, and throw hospitality-based urban development into havoc.

But Mark wants conservatives to remain blissfully unaware of the revolutionary nature of mass removal. New work-based computer software, he says, will handle everything cleanly. Let’s call it Krikorian 2.0.

Disinformation claim #3: Hispanic voting patterns are unaffected by the immigration debate.

Tom Tancredo makes the bizarre point that the GOP’s share of the Hispanic vote at the presidential level has fluctuated between Bob Dole’s 21 percent and George W. Bush’s 40 percent. He therefore concludes that the 13 percentage-point drop in Latino support for Republican presidential candidates between 2004 and 2008, and the 15 percentage-point drop in Latino backing for GOP congressional candidates, shouldn’t alarm us. After all, the “end points” — 31 percent and 29 percent respectively — are well within the historical “range.”

Ground control to Major Tom: Elections take place in real time, and the marginal differences between one election and another are what matters. Would we be having this discussion if the GOP’s share of the Catholic vote (or its share of any other major demographic) declined from 55 percent to 40 percent? Would anyone care that it was within a “historical range”?

My critics say that I have failed to prove that “hawkish immigration views” (Mark’s phrase) hurt Republicans in 2008. They are essentially arguing that the loss of 30 Latino votes per hundred cast was unrelated to the mass-deportation project, or the daily invective to which Hispanics were subjected on cable TV and talk radio, or the spectacle of the entire Republican presidential field running away from comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act, and all contact with Spanish-language media.

To test that hypothesis, we should look at opinion polls — at what Latinos say about themselves. Both my critics and I employ this approach. I am informed that the immigration issue doesn’t affect Hispanic vote patterns because Latinos say that immigration is not a high priority, or because they support law and order, or because they too resent illegals who compete with them for jobs and social services. This is all true. But does any of it actually measure how Latinos react to “enforcement only” candidates?

It is an observed fact that the Republican vote share among Latinos declines precipitously when we run “enforcement only” candidates (see my Border Wars). And there is a huge body of survey data that explains, rather than defies, the voting data. Examining polls conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, we find that 43 percent of Hispanic citizens fear a deportation action against a friend or family member, and 40 percent hear deportation denounced in the churches they attend. We find that 10 percent of Latinos report that police or other authorities have questioned their immigration status in the past year, including one out of every twelve Latino citizens. Among Latinos, 81 percent believe that immigration enforcement “should be left mainly to federal authorities rather than local police”; 76 percent “disapprove of workplace raids”; 73 percent oppose “criminal prosecution of undocumented immigrants who are working without authorization”; and 70 percent “disapprove of the criminal prosecution of employers who hire undocumented immigrants.”

Between 2004 and 2008, the Pew Hispanic Center found that the percentage of Latinos who believe that the Democratic party “has more concern for Hispanics” than the Republicans rose by 14 percentage points — a total virtually identical to the shift in Latino voter patterns recorded in the Edison-Mitofsky exit polls. Is this mere coincidence?

I would reconcile the polling data of my critics with the Pew data thus: Hispanics who are themselves citizens, and whose views on immigration policy are similar to those of other Americans, oppose “enforcement only” candidates because they fear that those candidates’ policies will personally affect them, or a friend, or a family member. In other words, the prospect of mass deportation balkanizes them.

Disinformation claim #4: Mass removal of illegals will improve the economy.

The deportationists assume that by demonizing illegal seasonal and low-wage labor — and the employers who employ that labor — Republicans will win the support of working-class Democrats. Mark Krikorian advances the new-age theory that low-wage and “low-skill” work is economically counterproductive in advanced industrial societies.  Economists and businessmen believe no such thing. The entire white-collar structure of management, distribution, and sales in major export industries such as grain production, cattle ranching, meat processing, orchard horticulture, fisheries, and forestry is dependent on the availability of such labor in the United States.

The question is not whether such labor will be used in these industries, but where. We can, theoretically, deport 9 million Mexicans from ranches in Colorado, timber mills in Oregon, fruit orchards in California, and fisheries in Massachusetts — but we can’t deport Mexicans from Mexico, Argentines from Argentina, or Chinese from China. The existence of major export industries within the United States depends on the types of labor that Krikorian would either ban or price out of the world market. And the overwhelming majority of American workers in the industries threatened by the “deportation” project are neither Hispanic, nor immigrant, nor low-wage.

But it is not only rural export industries that are threatened by the mass-deportation project. The hospitality industry in practically every metropolitan area of the United States depends on low-wage labor to support urban entrepreneurs in restaurants, entertainment venues, and the arts. For this reason, virtually every metropolitan area in America has either an explicit or implicit “sanctuary” policy, i.e., a refusal to proactively enforce immigration laws that outlaw workaday busboys, janitors, and maids. And they are joined in this defiance by state and local chambers of commerce that sue to overturn state-passed “employer sanctions” laws.

Rep. Lamar Smith ignores the list of Texas employers I provided who categorically reject his economic theories. Smith instead provides anecdotal evidence that his immigration policy is favorable to business. So allow me to present anecdotal evidence of my own. I received the following e-mail on Feb. 19, 2009, from an officer in an agricultural group:

Mr. Nadler,

Your Lamar Smith/Mark Krikorian et al. rebuttal in NRO is nourishment for the body and soul for our member farmers and small businesses who feel that the Republican party has abandoned them, and are responding accordingly.

One historic footnote if you ever find it useful: In 1996, in the face of draconian anti-immigrant and anti-business legislation, American agriculture sought to improve the H-2A program, our only labor safety net. An amendment to do just that was being carried by Rep. Richard Pombo. It went down in flames when nearly all Democrats opposed it (due to union and immigrant group opposition) AND roughly 80 House Republicans joined in. Rep. Lamar Smith led the Republican opposition parade. So, by stifling the legal channels, Smith is in no small part responsible for the ongoing illegal entry by folks willing to do farm labor.

Smith contends that “enforcement only” policies help labor. But in the one place where we can assess “enforcement only” measures, they have not.

Arizona’s employer-sanction law has been operative for since January 2008. Partisans on all sides of the immigration issue agree that the law has reduced the employment of illegals in the Grand Canyon State. According to Smith’s model, the reduced labor competition should have resulted in a relatively positive employment picture. It hasn’t. Since its employer-sanction law was implemented in January 2008, Arizona’s unemployment rate has increased by 3 percentage points, which is 0.5 percentage points faster than the national average. Three of the five highest unemployment percentage increases in the nation, year over year, occurred in Arizona. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported:

Among the 310 metropolitan areas for which nonfarm payroll data were available in December . . . the largest over-the-year percentage decreases in employment were experienced in Yuma, Ariz. (–7.9%); Flint, Mich. (–7.5%); Lake Havasu-Kingman, Ariz. (–7.2%); Elkhart-Goshen, Ind. (–6.1%); and Prescott, Ariz. (–5.6%).

Disinformation claim #5: Renunciation of mass deportation implies a renunciation of conservative principles generally.

Krikorian says that by rejecting mass deportation I am implicitly arguing that “Republicans should avoid ‘deal breaker’ beliefs when it comes to targeted demographics.” He then graciously compares my rejection of mass deportation to advocacy of gay marriage, slaughtering the unborn, affirmative action, and the Obama stimulus package. For good measure, he suggests that I might want to abandon peace-through-strength and limited government. He then implies that I am a tool of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Southern Law Poverty Center.

“Are there any principles,” Krikorian asks, “Nadler thinks we shouldn’t abandon in the quest for votes?”

Actually, Mark, there is only one “principle” I reject — mass deportation — and, having never held it, I can hardly be said to have abandoned it. I reject it as morally detestable, economically insane, and politically suicidal. Indeed, here is what I think about this “principle”:

‐If the Republican party embraces deportation, the pro-life movement will perish as a political force. Hispanics are on average 15 percent more pro-life than non-Hispanic whites. If they are balkanized into routinely voting for pro-abortion candidates, as blacks have been, we will not see another pro-life president in our lifetimes.

‐If the Republican party embraces mass deportation, the family disruption involved in that policy’s execution will irremediably tarnish the party’s pro-family image.

‐If the Republican party embraces the economics of restricting low-cost and seasonal labor, the ranks of the unemployed will swell by the millions — and the unemployed, needless to say, vote for left-wing Democrats far more consistently than immigrants do.

‐If the Republican party refuses to negotiate guest-worker measures simultaneously with border-security measures, it will obstruct needed border reforms imperative to crime control and national security.

In short, mass deportation, an option unthinkable in conservative circles a mere four years ago, undermines every tenet, and every goal, of the conservative agenda.

– Richard Nadler is president of the Americas Majority Foundation, a public-policy think tank in Overland Park, Kan.