Immigration hasn’t traditionally been a sharply partisan issue. The GOP presidential nominees in 2000, 2004, and 2008 all ran on pro-immigration platforms, as did their Democratic opponents. Conversely, many members of congress from both parties were hostile to immigration. You saw more pro-immigration sentiment among Democrats, but strong pro-immigration and pro-immigrant political cultures existed inside the GOP, and especially in its Texas and Florida branches both of which had been pretty successful over the years in winning Latino votes.
But since the 2008 election, conservatism has taken an increasingly cramped and xenophobic view of the world, leaving some on the pro-immigration right somewhat isolated. My colleague Andrea Nill identifies the fascinating case of Steven Hotze, a right-wing Texas activist who’s trying to defend a Latino-friendly posture for the GOP in terms of the idea that increased Hispanic migration provides a bulwark against the perils of Muslim immigration:
The majority of the Hispanic culture in America is Christian, pro-family, pro-life and pro-free enterprise. Sounds like they would make great Republicans to me. Let’s go recruit them!
Gentlemen, it seems that the real problem we face is the Muslim immigration invasion of America. The Hispanics are our natural allies against the Democrats and Muslims.
Nill counters that “it would make more sense for Latinos in the U.S. to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community against the racist vitriol and anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the Republican party rather than allowing themselves to be used as a political wedge.”
Indeed, I would suggest that the progressive voting record of the Jewish community in the United States indicates that the “divide and conquer through bigotry” approach has some real limits. The tendency is for vulnerable minority groups to prefer to affiliate with coalitions based on ideas of tolerance and pluralism. But it is true that over time we could plausibly see the “whitening” of a great many American Hispanics in the face of some other Other and their entry into the conservative coalition. Indeed, part of the Texas political tradition is the fact that in the Jim Crow Era people of Mexican ancestry were granted official “white” legal status. This doesn’t happen, though, if conservatives persist in racist attacks on Latinos, as seen in both Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings and much of their recent immigration related rhetoric. Certainly I’ve found that my own emotional response to those events has actually surprised me somewhat and in a weird way it was the Sotomayor hearings more than anything else from the 111th Congress that actually made me personally angry.