George Graham

Why Republicans Fight Immigration Reform

You might be feeling optimistic about America’s chance of immigration reform. After all, there seems to be bipartisan support for a bill to bring the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows into mainstream society – and the mainstream economy. It makes sense not only for the immigrants but also for the country.

Who would want to deny a path to legitimacy for families who have lived and worked here for decades? Who would refuse the taxes they would pay? Who would want to sustain the current supply of illegal workers, knowing how their exploitation undermines wages for the rest of the workforce?

Republicans, that’s who.

It’s not just because corporations that contribute so much to the Republican Party profit mightily from the exploitation of undocumented workers.  There’s an even more cynical thought process at work here.

It came out in the open at the Republican Study Committee’s immigration summit, when Rep. Michael Burgess (photo above) blurted it out – under the pretext of a joke. Why would a Republican want to give the vote to “11 million Democrats,” he wanted to know.

Reporting on the Congressman’s candor in today’s National Journal, Tim Alberta observed:

With all the noise surrounding the debate over policy specifics — security measures, enforcement triggers, future flow, interior oversight — there is still an underlying political argument whispered among some of Congress’s most conservative members: After 71 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama in 2012, why should Republicans add millions more to the voting rolls?

I am not surprised. And I don’t believe for a moment that Burgess was joking. I know that today’s Republicans consistently put their party’s welfare ahead of their country’s. That’s one of the things that make them so dangerous politically. They keep their eyes on the prize, and let the chips fall where they may. But it’s refreshing to hear them admit it.

Refreshing but not that uncommon. As Alberta notes:

Not everyone feels the need to whisper. At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Iowa Rep. Steve King — the leading immigration hardliner in the House GOP — earned laughter and applause during an immigration panel when he quipped: “Even Republicans seem to think that these undocumented Democrats could be made voters and somehow we’re going to win in that equation. And what happens is that two out of every three that would be legalized become Democrats.”

You would think that such a bare-faced exposure of the Republican agenda would make Latinos even more inclined to support the Democratic Party. But not all Latinos. Cuban immigrants and their descendants tend to vote Republican. They have no fear of being deported. A special immigration rule gives Cubans the right to stay once their feet touch the American shore.

A few other Latin Americans countries have been treated similarly because the US government regarded their ruling regimes as “communist.”  Nicaraguans fleeing the pro-Soviet Sandinista government were given asylum, for example. But generally speaking, mainland Latin Americans don’t get the same free pass that Cubans get. (Puerto Ricans, of course, are already US citizens.)

It’s a fact that pundits and politicians tend to ignore. Latinos are not all of one mind. The politicians also seem to forget that not all immigrants – and not all undocumented immigrants – are Latinos. Jamaica is well represented, I’m sure. So is Europe. And what about the flood of Asians to the West Coast? Are they all “documented”?

You don’t hear much about non-Latino immigrants. It’s the Hispanic population that carries the banner of immigration reform. But I’m sure the non-Latino immigrants are listening to the immigration debate. And what they’re hearing is sure to influence their votes – if they ever get to vote.

In the meantime, their friends and relatives already have the vote. That might be something Republicans should consider as they scheme to improve their party’s fortunes in future elections.

Click here for the National Journal article.

Click here for the “wet feet, dry feet” immigration policy.


About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for