For a number of reasons the Republican Party has turned sour on immigrants. Mostly it’s the result of a relentless drumbeat from within their own base that sees no gains for the party in permitting predominantly undocumented Latinos and Asians to take a first step on the long road to citizenship and eventually vote against them.
But even that threat, if it is a threat, doesn’t explain the heated rhetoric we have been hearing this year, with conservative senators and House members casually alluding to drug lords, then ISIS, then Ebola.
Who are these immigrants they are talking about?
They are certainly not the ones who take the 7 Train from Queens into Manhattan day and night. They are certainly not the Latino workers, bar hops, kitchen porters, domestics and laborers that we see and know.
Nor are they the undocumented Asians, whose industry and work ethic are equally as impressive. Nor indeed are they the undocumented Irish, who work and thrive everywhere in this city from the bars on Third Avenue to even the top tier financial services centers. Not a drug-dealing, disease-carrying jihadist among them.
Republican lawmakers and activists erupted as details of the bill emerged, then the Tea Party hordes descended on Washington with their placards and angry phone calls, and although the bill passed the Senate on a 68–32 vote, the House did nothing to support it and the legislation was allowed to die.
What’s really happening is that the GOP is putting the future of the party before the future of the nation. They know that their own base is deeply divided over how to respond to this issue.
Most Republicans believe in a strong border and believe that amnesty for the undocumented is a bad idea. But they don’t necessarily all believe that the thing to do with the undocumented is send them all back to the country of their origin and turn the U.S. into an impregnable fortress.
There’s more than a hint of the nativism of the 19th century driving the most extremist elements within the party’s base. They want America to be the United States, not the United Nations – meaning people of color, meaning Latinos and Asians, meaning the people who aren’t like us.
If you think the Irish are just caught in that odious crossfire you haven’t really noticed that to the most odious anti-immigration politicians, even the Irish are considered a suspect class.
It turns out that anti-immigrant sentiment doesn’t just threaten immigrants. It also threatens an internal civil war calculated to tear the GOP apart as they debate who is and who isn’t a Republican in Name Only (RINO).
So just how politically potent is this anti-immigrant sentiment within the party? Well, recall that Dave Brat, an unknown who only had the support of anti-immigration reform conservative leaders, defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, an untouchable within the party system. David slew Goliath, and the GOP establishment shivered.
But what’s truly upsetting and offensive is that amid all this party politicking the human dimension is utterly lost.
Everyday people who live and work here, who pay their taxes and spend what they earn, are forgotten about as Washington protects the one figure it shows the most enduring concern for: itself.
Republicans can rightly object to President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform, but they have also stymied every good faith attempt that came before them up till now. Failure to act is itself a form of action, after all.
The GOP clearly wants it all. They want to thwart Obama, they want to prevent a nasty civil war within their own ranks, and they want to smooth the ground toward the 2016 election.
The problem is that they can’t have it all. Standing in a little cone of silence until everyone does what you want them to just isn’t a workable solution.
So we are where we are, in this shameful kabuki dance where the good of the party takes precedence over the good of the nation. This is not your father's GOP. It’s not the party of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush who enacted immigration reforms.
Instead of the Gipper the new mascot should be King Canute, the legendary king who sat on his throne at the seashore as the tides of history lapped at his feet.