Buzzfeed’s John Stanton today managed to get Republican lawmakers on record admitting that the movement to stop immigration report is at least party driven by racial animosity. One Southern Republican member of Congress, who requested anonymity, told Stanton outright that “part of it…it’s racial.” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham put it a little more delicately, referring to “ugliness around the issue of immigration.”
While it’s unusual to have Republican members of Congress saying it aloud, it’s hardly a secret that today’s anti-immigrant movement was built by xenophobia and remains in a large part driven by it.
Overtly racist remarks by members of Congress like Steve King and Don Young or by fringe nativists like William Gheen or Judson Phillips could be written off as distractions if they were not part and parcel of this larger movement.
Just look at the three central advocacy groups working to stop immigration reform. The misleadingly named Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the movement “think tank” Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and Numbers USA were all founded by John Tanton, an activist who hardly hid his racist views, support for eugenics, and white nationalist ideology. (Sample Tanton argument: “I've come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.")
But it’s not just these groups’ history that’s problematic. While most have tried to distance themselves Tanton’s extreme nativist rhetoric, they have turned instead to racial code language to imply that immigration undermines American politics and culture.
Dan Stein, the president of FAIR, has warned that immigrants take part in “competitive breeding” to supplant native-born whites and that "[m]any of them hate America, hate everything the United States stands for. CIS president Mark Krikorian has pointed to “illegitimate” children and “high rates of welfare use” as reasons why Latino immigrants will never vote Republican and therefore shouldn’t be “imported” into the United States.
These arguments linked to two threads common in the anti-immigrant movement: that immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, will never be prosperous, productive members of society, and that they will never vote Republican, so Republicans shouldn’t bother to try to appeal to them.
The first of these arguments was famously illustrated by a Heritage Foundation study last year that purported to show that immigration reform would cost the country trillions of dollars, an inflated number based on the premise that future generations of immigrants would never help to grow the economy or give back financially to the country. The fact that the report was co-written by a researcher who believes that Latinos have intrinsically lower IQ only served to underline the point that the study was making.
The second line of argument was most clearly put by Eagle Forum founder and conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, when she said that Republicans should drop their attempts at reaching Latino voters and focus instead on turning out white voters because “there’s not any evidence at all that these Hispanics coming in from Mexico will vote Republican.” The next week, CIS sent out a press release echoing Schlafly’s argument . Pat Buchanan made a similar plea to revive the “Southern Strategy” by ginning up animosity among white voters toward Latino immigrants. It’s no coincidence that this theory that Republicans can maintain a whites-only coalition in an increasingly diverse nation was first laid out by white nationalist writer Steve Sailer.
These two themes were what was behind a FAIR spokesman’s comment last week that allowing undocumented immigrants to work toward legal status would collapse the two-party system and lead to “tyranny.” Similarly, CIS analyst Steven Steinlight recently claimed that immigration reform would be the “unmaking of America” because it “would subvert our political life by destroying the Republican Party” and turn the United States into a one-party state. As evidence, he cited the fact that “Hispanics don’t exemplify ‘strong family values.’”
You don’t have to talk about “cantaloupe calves” to build a movement that relies on and exploits racial animosity. The anti-immigrant movement has mastered this art.