“The Trump-era GOP cares more about the national origin and race of immigrants than the methods they used to enter the United States.
There’s an irony here, which was pointed out to me by CATO Institute immigration analyst David Bier. Until recently, Republican politicians drew a bright line between illegal immigration, which they claimed to hate, and legal immigration, which they claimed to love. Florida Senator Marco Rubio launched his presidential campaign at the Freedom Tower, Miami’s Ellis Island. Texas senator Ted Cruz, who in 2013 proposed a five-fold increase in the number of H1B visas for highly skilled immigrants, declared in April 2015 that, “There is no stronger advocate for legal immigration in the U.S. Senate than I am.” Mitt Romney promised in 2007 that, “We’re going to end illegal immigration to protect legal immigration.”
Trump has turned that distinction on its head. He’s willing to legalize the “dreamers”—who came to the United States illegally—so long as the number of legal immigrants goes down. He has not only blurred the GOP’s long-held moral distinction between legal and illegal immigration. In some ways, he’s actually flipped it—taking a harder line on people who enter the U.S. with documentation than those who don’t.
Trump, who often says bluntly what other Republicans say in code, probably realized that “illegal immigrant” was, for many voters, already a euphemism for Latino or Mexican-immigrants. In their book White Backlash, the political scientists Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan Hajnal cite a poll showing that 61 percent of Americans believe that most Latino immigrants are undocumented even though only about a quarter are. “When Americans talk about undocumented immigrants, Latinos or immigrants in general,” they note, “the images in their heads are likely to be the same.”
Trump grasped that during the campaign, and in coalition with a bevy of current and former Southern Senators—Jeff Sessions, David Perdue and Tom Cotton—he has used it to turn the GOP into a party devoted to slashing legal immigration. On Thursday, when presented with a bill that traded the legalization of dreamers for more border security but did not reduce legal immigration, only eight Republican Senators voted yes. However, 37 voted for a bill that legalized the “dreamers,” added more border security and substantially reduced legal immigration.
What really matters for many Republicans in Trump’s standoff with Mueller and the FBI is not who has the law on their side, since the bureaucracy can twist the law to its own advantage. What really matters is who enjoys the backing of “the people,” the authentic America that resides outside the swamp, a construct that definitely does not include the imagined beneficiaries of “chain migration” and the “visa lottery.”
In the Trump era, Republicans now justify their immigration views less by reference to law than by reference to tribe. Which, not coincidentally, is how they justify Trump’s presidency itself.”
Marco Rubio has already seen the downside of trying to become a national force in the GOP by advocating a moderate, pro-business, pro-immigrant, not overtly anti-Hispanic policy. I suspect if and when Ambassador Nikki Haley tries to make a bid for national office in the GOP she’ll find out that the Miller-Sessions-Cotton-Perdue-King group and Trump supporters will treat her with the same disrespect, bias, and disdain that they usually reserve for smart, capable Latinas, children fleeing for their lives from the Northern Triangle, and “Dreamers.”
And folks like Sen. Tim Scott will find that even consistent support for a right-wing GOP that regularly disses African-Americans and Hispanics won’t give him “White Guy” status in the larger GOP world. A useful vote in the Senate. That’s about it. Reportedly, Scott once talked to Trump about the latter’s “tone” on race. How did that work out, Tim? But, hey, as long as you vote for big tax breaks for the wealthy, cuts in health care, and are happy to threaten the benefits, remaining dignity, and lives of the poor, you can at least retain your status a “club member at the retail level.”