The Republicans' deep dive into nativism

The Republicans' deep dive into nativism
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In an op-ed timed to coincide with the publication of “Out of Many, One,” a collection of paintings and stories about 43 people who enriched their adopted country, George W. Bush recently sought to “humanize the debate” about undocumented immigrants in the United States. The former president also endorsed a reform package providing enhanced border security; a pathway to citizenship for individuals in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; and a gradual process (through work and service requirements and proficiency in English) to bring the 11 million adults who entered the United States illegally “out of the shadows.”

Mr. Bush, who failed to persuade Congress to reform immigration when he was president, is unlikely now to convert a single Republican in the House and Senate. Indeed, his lonely advocacy serves as a grim reminder of the depth of the GOP’s decade-long descent into nativism.

Congress, it is worth remembering, came close to enacting a bi-partisan immigration bill in 2013. After Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Obamas' first White House dog, Bo, dies Census results show White House doubling down on failure MORE was re-elected in 2012, the Republican National Committee conducted an “autopsy.” Taking note of the changing racial and ethnic composition of the electorate, the RNC recommended that the GOP “embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituency only.


A “Gang of Eight” (four Republicans and four Democrats) in the Senate drafted legislation that would have provided funds for more agents on the border with Mexico, 700 miles of fencing, $3.2 billion in technology upgrades, and a 13-year-long path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. “Unlike other countries,” Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats cool on Crist's latest bid for Florida governor Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Fla.) declared, “we are not afraid of people coming in here from other places. I support this reform. Not just because I believe in immigrants, but because I believe in America even more.”

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office indicated that, if signed into law, the bill would reduce the deficit by $470 billion over the next decade, increase tax revenues by $109 billion, create about 120,000 jobs a year, and enhance the solvency of Social Security.

The legislation passed the Senate with a substantial majority, 68-32: Fourteen Republican Senators, including Rubio, Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Press: Forget bipartisanship — it's dead! MORE (Utah), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE (Tenn.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEx-McSally aide pleads guilty to stealing over 0K in campaign funds DOJ: Arizona recount could violate civil rights laws Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women MORE (Ariz.), Lindsay Graham (S.C.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' MORE (Maine), and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Trump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan Trump drama divides GOP, muddling message MORE (Alaska), voted yes.

The bill also had sufficient support among Democrats and Republicans to pass in the House; however, as it became clear that his caucus was divided on immigration reform, Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMaher chides Democrats: We 'suck the fun out of everything' Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only House Republicans request hearing with Capitol Police Board for first time since 1945 MORE (R-Ohio) invoked the “Hastert Rule” (a dagger to the heart of bi-partisanship which requires a majority of Republicans to support any legislation before it moves to the floor) and refused to schedule a vote on the Senate bill.

In 2021, the Republican autopsy report is a distant memory. Instead of reaching out to ethnic and racial minorities, the “build that wall” wing of the GOP opted to restrict their ability to vote. Republican Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Fox News inks contributor deal with former Democratic House member MORE (Tenn.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  Cindy McCain: Arizona election audit is 'ludicrous' The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (Ariz.), who did not get with the program, were purged.


Republicans are virtually certain to filibuster President Biden’s plan, which offers an 8-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (requiring them to pass background checks and pay taxes), eliminates restrictions on family-based immigration, and expands worker visas. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAssaults on Roe v Wade increasing Trump spokesman says defeating Cheney a top priority Biden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push MORE (R-Ky.) has blasted the legislation as “blanket amnesty that would gut enforcement of American laws while creating huge new incentives for people to rush here illegally at the same time.” In immigration politics, Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanStrengthen CBP regulations to reduce opioid deaths House panel advances bipartisan retirement savings bill Democrats confront difficult prospects for midterms MORE (R-Ohio) recently claimed, “comprehensive” has become “a dirty word.”

More significant is the response of Republicans who voted for reform in 2013 (to be administered by President Obama) and are still in the Senate: Susan Collins apparently cannot contemplate supporting a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers now that “the border is such a disaster.” Marco Rubio will not now vote for “blanket amnesty for people who are here unlawfully.” With John McCain no longer at his side, Lindsay Graham now exclaims, “God, no. I’m not in support of legalizing one person until you’re in control of the border.”

A substantial majority of Americans endorse comprehensive reform. A February 2021 poll reveals that 69 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The percentage increases to 72 for Dreamers. And 64 percent agree that stimulus checks should be sent to the 16.7 million people who live in mixed-status (U.S. citizen and undocumented immigrant) families.

It’s a shame — no, it’s a tragedy — that on this issue (and, alas, on so many others) Republicans believe “compromise” is an even dirtier word than “comprehensive.”

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of "Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century."