Skip to main content

On immigration, GOP offers fear, not ideas

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
June 28, 2013 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: GOP naysayers hammer at immigration reform, but offer no ideas
  • He says a few Republicans voted yes on Senate bill, but even those came at high cost
  • He says immigration advocate Reagan would be ashamed of party's fear-mongering
  • He says GOP peddles illogical, inaccurate reasons to hold up immigration reform

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

(CNN) -- It's depressing to see what has become of the Republican Party, where immigration is concerned.

A political party that, just 30 years ago, stood tall in defense of freedom and embodied the limitless opportunity for which America is famous is now stuck playing defense.

We've gone from Ronald Reagan declaring, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" in Berlin to Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota demanding another 700 miles of border fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

At least these two senators are proposing something. The naysayers who have pounded away daily at the Senate immigration bill in the hopes of defeating it have not, for the most part, set forth any credible or reasonable proposals of their own. The best they can do is to block what someone else has proposed. That's their definition of victory.

That's the game in the House of Representatives, where the debate is headed now that the Senate has approved the immigration reform bill by a vote of 68 to 32.

The "yes" votes included 14 from Republicans. Many of them came at a high price -- more than $30 billion in new border enforcement measures, via the Corker-Hoeven amendment. But where are the new ideas about how to provide a legal workforce of laborers who will do jobs that Americans shun? Where was the effort to streamline the legal immigration process so that those who play by the rules aren't punished for doing so?

Aside from the four Republican senators in the Gang of Eight -- Marco Rubio, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake -- most of the senators who voted "yes" on the final bill had offered nothing to make it better. Leadership requires more than simply voting the right way.

Reagan, who said during the 1980 campaign that he supported giving legal status to illegal immigrants and who in 1986 signed an amnesty bill that legalized more than 3 million people -- would be ashamed of what has become of his party.

Today, when it comes to immigration, there is no imagination, boldness or grandeur. Republican leaders could choose to pitch Americans on several big themes -- optimism, hope, renewal, confidence, etc. They could try to convince us that our country's best days are ahead of it, and that immigrants will help lead the way.

Bumpy road for immigration in House
McCain: Immigration bill is strong

Instead, Republicans are doing what comes easy: peddling fear and scaring the wits out of everyday Americans.

This is not exactly new. In the mid-18th century, Benjamin Franklin tried to scare his fellow Americans into thinking that German immigrants would soon "be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of us Anglifying them." Later, it was feared that the Chinese were "not assimilable" into society, that the Irish were -- in the words of Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts -- "diminishing the quality of our citizenship," and that the Italians were naturally predisposed to criminal behavior.

And of course, no matter who was coming ashore, there were always the perennial fears that newcomers take jobs, consume resources, spread disease, crowd schools and lower the standard of living for everyone else. Remarkably, over the last 230 years, the script has stayed pretty much the same. Only the actors changed.

This so-called nation of immigrants has always been afraid of immigrants.

I've been listening in to the latest round of fear mongering -- "Fear 2.0" -- which is epitomized by the handful of Republican lawmakers, and their allies, who have spent the last few months trying to defeat the Senate bill. You hear it from talk radio, right-wing blogs and conservative columnists.

The goal is to convince us that, if Congress passes immigration reform and grants legal status to millions of illegal immigrants, Americans should be afraid of 10 things.

-- that those who gain legal status will include, in the words of the union representing immigration agents, child molesters, drunken drivers and gang members;

-- that more immigrants will come illegally in the months to come, because of the promise of legalization;

-- that more immigrants will come legally in the years to come, sponsored by newly legalized family members;

-- that those who get legal status won't learn English or assimilate but instead create a country within a country;

-- that the newly legalized will go on welfare, usurp public benefits and bankrupt the system;

-- that this is a fool's errand for the GOP because the immigrants won't vote for Republicans anyway;

-- that the newly legalized might, upon becoming citizens, actually punish Republicans for years of mistreatment;

-- that the country is changing demographically to the point where whites will soon be in the minority, and a legalization program would only speed up the process;

-- that immigrants will worsen population growth, overcrowd our schools, and lower Americans' standard of living;

-- and, finally, that this will create, as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas claims, a "de facto affirmative action" by providing an incentive to employers to hire them over U.S. citizens because they're not covered by Obamacare mandates.

This is the Republican message in all its glory. It's based on speculation and half-truths and worst-case scenarios that make the most sense to those who know the least about immigrants.

It's not accurate. It's not logical. It's not pretty. And it's not helpful.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT