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 Obama 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 RubioI'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement Florida looms large in Republican 2024 primary 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 HatchMeet Washington's most ineffective senator: Joe Manchin Lobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage MORE (Utah), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE (Tenn.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRedistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Kelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities MORE (Ariz.), Lindsay Graham (S.C.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsI'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities MORE (Maine), and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSchumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema ​​Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration Clyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' 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 BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid 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 CorkerRepublicans, ideology, and demise of the state and local tax deduction Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force MORE (Tenn.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote as part of deal on Biden nominees Democrats threaten to play hardball over Cruz's blockade Rubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees 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 McConnellDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown Mellman: Voting rights or the filibuster?  Budowsky: To Dems: Run against the do-nothing GOP, Senate 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 PortmanBiden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Senators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support 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 ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown Biden nominates Jane Hartley as ambassador to UK To boost economy and midterm outlook, Democrats must pass clean energy bill MORE) 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."