Politics & Policy

The Immigration Demagogues

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Hoping for surrender on amnesty, Representative Luis Gutierrez plays the bully.

Al Sharpton, make some room to your left. The Reverend Sharpton now has a competitor for the title “demagogue in chief” of American politics. Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, Congress’s most outspoken advocate for immigration amnesty, appeared on MSNBC after President Obama announced his executive actions and was asked by Rachel Maddow why Republicans were opposing Obama. Gutierrez’s reasoned response was: “If you want to make it about people from Latin America, if you want to use xenophobia, if you want to use bigotry and hatred and [the president], then you want to mix up the facts.”

Gutierrez has followed up sound-bite missiles like that with something akin to a victory lap through America’s urban areas. He tells immigrants it is “my responsibility, now that [Obama] has done the executive action, to sign up as many people as possible.” That means getting them to pre-register for the time next year when applications will be available for what is likely to lead to amnesty.

But Gutierrez makes clear that his ultimate goal is to put as many illegal immigrants as possible on a path to U.S. citizenship. Last year, he told reporters that without eventual citizenship, immigrants would be treated just as slaves were in the original Constitution, when they were counted as only three-fifths of a person. He told reporters that it’s vital that immigrants have “the ability to acquire American citizenship, so you do not create a permanent underclass of individuals that aren’t.”

In reality, what both President Obama and Representative Gutierrez are vitally concerned about isn’t the policy of immigration reform but the politics. Both men are acutely aware that if the kind of assimilation efforts that mainstreamed previous generations of immigrants into U.S. society can be stigmatized and blocked, they have a chance to turn illegal immigrants into a powerful liberal voting bloc that is dependent on Democrats for benefits and patronage jobs.

That’s their goal, but it’s unclear if so far Latinos are responding quite the way they want. Last August, Gutierrez predicted that 2 million new Latino voters would swamp the Republican party in the midterm elections. He told Larry King on Ora.tv: “Two million more Latinos voted in [2008] than [2004]. Two million more voted in [2012] than [2008]. They voted resoundingly for the Democratic party. I think the Republican party should take heed that those people are registering.”

That same month, Gutierrez appeared with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Capitol Hill and made the following remarks in Spanish: Republicans “want to punish our community, and that punishment will be met with an electoral punishment. Be assured that we are not going to forget the mistreatment our community has received.”

But despite Republican opposition to an amnesty bill, Latinos voted about the same as they had in the last midterm election of 2010. Democrats won 62 percent of Latino votes this November, compared with 60 percent in 2010, with basically the same voter turnout. Democrats do win the majority of Hispanic votes — but not because of immigration policy. Both Gallup and the Pew Hispanic Center have found in polling that immigration ranks relatively low in importance to Hispanic voters. When asked in an October Pew survey about five issues in this year’s congressional campaign, more cited education (92 percent), jobs and the economy (91 percent), and health care (86 percent) as extremely important or very important to them. By comparison, 73 percent said the same about immigration.

#page#Aaron Blake of the Washington Post has looked at all the survey data and found that Latino voters were evenly split on Obama’s decision to delay his immigration action until after the November election, with 32 percent unhappy and 33 percent happy. Only 9 percent described themselves as “angry.” “This whole immigration thing is something of a secondary issue for Hispanics who already have legal status and the ability to vote,” Blake concluded.

But Gutierrez and his fellow immigration demagogues are unfazed by polls showing that Latinos aren’t marching in angry solidarity behind them. Having failed to turn current Latino citizens as much in their direction as they hoped, they know the only way they will get a chance to put illegal immigrants on a path of citizenship and voting is to intimidate or bully Republicans into submission.

As of now, we simply don’t have enough polling data to know how much Latinos are embracing President Obama’s executive actions. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that overall Americans opposed the actions by 48 percent to 38 percent, with Latinos only slightly in favor. But the Latino sample size was small, and more attention has been given to a Latino Decisions poll (paid for by pro-amnesty groups) that found 89 percent of Latinos backing Obama’s decision. But the Washington Post noted that the question asked presented an argument for the pro–executive action side but not the other. “They’ve encouraged respondents to lean in one direction,” the Post concluded. “That’s very common among polls done for private clients, but it does skew the results.”

Regardless of how the polling eventually sorts out, Representative Gutierrez will continue to demagogue immigration in the conviction that, with enough bullying, he will prevail. When asked by MSNBC about polls that show Americans overall oppose President Obama’s moves, Gutierrez replied, “The American people have not been explained [sic] what kind of executive authority, and what the implications are for tens of millions of American families across the nation. I think once the president has an opportunity to explain it, those numbers are going to go up.”

Of course, the same thing was said about President Obama’s other signature “achievement” in office when it was unveiled in 2010: Obamacare. Today, it remains as unpopular now as it was then. And as with the Obamacare health-care exchanges case now before the Supreme Court, the legality of President Obama’s immigration moves may wind up being decided by the judiciary. Let’s hope judges resist the demagoguery and political pressure that Gutierrez and his allies put on them to ignore the Rule of Law.

— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for NRO.

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