Politics & Policy

Toxic Immigration ‘Reform’

Why are Republican luminaries trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Barely into its second term, the Obama administration is reeling from the mounting evidence of its callous disrespect for the rule of law and willingness to lie to the American people, as has been demonstrated in the cases of Benghazi, the IRS scandal, and the Associated Press spying scandal. All three of these cases call for detailed investigations and additional hearings. They could very well have political staying power to the midterm elections in 2014 and perhaps beyond that to the presidential vote in 2016. This seemingly presents the GOP with a golden opportunity to take over the Senate in 2014 and, much more important, to stop President Obama from achieving his declared objective: of “fundamentally transforming” the country in a hard-left, big-government direction.

Yes, but no. For as these positive developments play out, powerful elements in the Republican party seem determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by signing onto a disastrous immigration “reform,” long pushed by the Left, whose centerpiece is giving amnesty and eventually citizenship to the estimated 11 million illegal aliens in America today. Republican luminaries, from Senator John McCain to “young guns” Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan, have jumped on board and sought to convince their Republican colleagues of the alleged conservative merits of such a course.

Now, immigration reform has been on many conservatives’ agenda for some time — real immigration reform, that is, including an emphasis on skills and education, for example, and an end to preferential treatment for family reunification. But the so-called reform being pushed today would inevitably lead to wholesale amnesty and citizenship for people who entered the country illegally. A bill that does not do that, opines Senator McCain, “offends fundamental principles of fairness in our society.” Another supporter — the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks — reveals, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, the amazing discovery that the 48 percent of registered Hispanics who do not vote are closet Republicans. The only reason they don’t come out of the closet, Brooks explains, is that their primary concern is “care for the poor,” and the GOP does not do well enough on that score.

The reason for this new-found enthusiasm for immigration reform in the GOP is the ostensibly crucial role played by Hispanics in Mitt Romney’s defeat and the abiding belief among many politicians and commentators that Latinos’ core values are basically conservative — or, as Ronald Reagan is said to have put it, “Latinos are Republican. They just don’t know it yet.” Thus, legalize the illegals, the narrative goes, and Latino gratitude in the form of millions of new GOP voters cannot be far behind. Unfortunately, this is a narrative based on wishful thinking completely divorced from reality, à la Mr. Brooks, and therefore profoundly bogus.

So let’s look at the facts. With respect to the last presidential election, Byron York of the Washington Examiner and others have already documented beyond doubt that while Hispanic voters went for Obama by a margin of 71 to 27 percent, they did not materially affect the contest. To win strictly on the basis of the Hispanic vote, Romney would have had to carry an impossible 73 percent of it. Romney lost not because of the Hispanics, but because he received even fewer votes from the core GOP constituency than John McCain did in 2008. The support of an additional 4 percent of voting whites would have carried the day for him. The reasons for his inability to gain this support should be the real focus of attention in GOP postmortems rather than imaginary Hispanic votes.

Some Republicans acknowledge this reality but believe that helping to legalize the illegal immigrants would make Hispanics realize that Republicans care about them. How realistic is that? Not very. Here again we have considerable factual evidence, and it is fairly incontrovertible. It is often forgotten that we already had a full-scale amnesty in 1986 — with a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Senate — followed by several partial amnesties. In the two Reagan elections of 1980 and 1984, just prior to the 1986 amnesty, the Republican share of the Latino vote stood at 37 percent. Yet, after the implementation of amnesty began in 1987, according to the Washington Post and national exit polls, the GOP share of the Hispanic vote in presidential races plummeted to 30 percent in 1988, 25 percent in 1992, and 21 percent in 1996. So much for Latino gratitude to the GOP.

Instead, the Democratic party received a major boost in Latino registration from the amnesty. Overall, according to the Pew Research Center, Democratic-party affiliation among Hispanic registered voters had risen to 70 percent by 2012, while falling to 22 percent for the GOP. The figures are even more dramatic for California, which has by far the largest Latino population in the nation. As of 1980, 52.7 percent of California’s registered voters were Republican; California now has just 29 percent registered Republicans. Undoubtedly, a major reason for this change was the amnesty. More than 3 million illegal immigrants nationwide were legalized under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), and more than 50 percent of these newly legalized aliens resided in California. In Los Angeles County alone, 583,963 immigrants were legalized under the IRCA; today the ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans in the county is 51.8 percent to 23.5 percent. Furthermore, L.A. County once again has an illegal population numbering one in ten adults, according to a recent USC study. No wonder L.A. County and California as a whole have been transformed into one-party jurisdictions.

To expect that granting amnesty to the current crop of illegal aliens would have different results is yet another case of the proverbial triumph of hope over experience.

Finally, what about the alleged conservative or Republican values of the Latino immigrants? Surely many of them do share these values, and success stories are far from rare. Otherwise you wouldn’t have a quarter of the immigrants consistently voting Republican. But to argue that they are typical, let alone that they characterize the majority of the immigrant population, is to stand reality on its head.

Scholars such as Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute and Professor George Borjas of Harvard University, among many others, have long documented a progressive deterioration of the prevailing social norms in the Latino community as illegal immigration, especially from Mexico, has exploded since the 1980s. Contrary to what are touted as conservative values, the Hispanic community today exhibits traits typical of the American underclass, such as high rates of broken families, teen pregnancies and out-of-wedlock births, crime, domestic violence, gang violence, and strong dependence on welfare programs. According to Ms. Mac Donald, more than half of California’s Hispanic births at present are out of wedlock, and Latinos “have the highest teen birthrate of all ethnic groups” in California. Four out of ten incarcerated criminals in California in 2008 were Hispanic, and more than 80 percent of households headed by an illegal immigrant were on welfare. Indeed, Professor Borjas has argued that many illegal immigrants seek U.S. citizenship “as a means of retaining welfare eligibility.”

The real reason for this unhappy state of affairs is a combination of the type of illegal immigrants we have been attracting lately and the counterproductive policies pursued by the California state government, which has sought to make them wards of the state and has largely succeeded, with devastating long-term consequences for both the immigrants and the state itself. In the past two or three decades, most of the illegal Latino immigrants, 82 percent of whom are Mexicans, come from the lowest stratum of their society and are largely illiterate or, as an economist would put it, lack the human capital that education endows. And experience has shown that adult immigrants illiterate in Spanish will seldom become literate in English.

The results are there for everyone to see. California today has an adult illiteracy rate of 23 percent. If it were an independent country, this would put it in 151st place among the 205 countries of the world. It is worth noting that the Golden State is now considerably less literate than Mexico itself, which has an illiteracy rate of 13.9 percent. Los Angeles County’s illiteracy rate is 33.5 percent, which would place it in the company of countries like Ghana, Burundi, and Congo. And it’s getting worse. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Latinos were the only ethnic group in America whose illiteracy rate increased significantly between 1992 and 2003.

This need not be a permanent condition, but legalizing another 11 million immigrants and probable Democratic voters would not help. At the very least, the GOP would be likely to lose, and permanently, swing states like Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada, as well as the chance to elect a Republican president for years to come. To say nothing of the potential reaction by millions of conservative Americans to whom such an amnesty would mean a GOP betrayal of historic proportions. In short, the Republican caucus in the Senate appears embarked on a suicidal course. The choice is clear. Either the GOP majority in the House will kill this toxic bill, or the bill will kill the GOP. Tertium non datur!

— Alex Alexiev is a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC) in Washington, D.C.

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