Lincoln * Institute

Colin A. Hanna

Colin A. Hanna

Let Freedom Ring, USA


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Let Freedom Ring

Can Conservatives Win Immigration Debate?

by Colin Hanna

Is there a more contentious and divisive issue within conservatism today than immigration? I doubt it.

So let's grapple with it. If you believe as Ronald Reagan did, that conservatism and Americanism are basically indistinguishable, and that conservatism is a political movement grounded in the wisdom and values that the Founders of this nation held highest and that are reflected in our Constitution: liberty, equality of opportunity, limited government, personal responsibility and a humble recognition of God not government as the ultimate sovereign, then you'll want to look at the immigration issue from that perspective. When convincingly articulated, as Reagan did, these are unifying and uplifting, inspirational principles.

Why has immigration risen to the top of our sociological and political agenda? Because America is changing, and immigration and ethnicity are closely related. Some want us to change from the white majority of our first two and a half centuries to more of an ethnic polyglot, others firmly and emotionally do not, and still others argue that it's inevitable whether we want it or not. Changing ethnicities bring with them changing political trends. In the last elections, for instance, among the four largest ethnic groups, white, black or African-American, Hispanic or Latino and Asian, the differences in Presidential preference were stark: white Americans favored the Republican candidate with 60% support, while African, Hispanic and Asian Americans favored the Democrat candidate with 94, 72 and 74% support, respectively. If those percentages were to hold for another forty years, how would their demographic trends affect political trends?

If you take the turnout and party preference statistics from 2012, combined with the Census Bureau's population projections, and extend them out to 2060, Republicans will never win another Presidential race. But let's say the unusually heavy preference among African-Americans for Obama as the first black candidate for President won't persist. Let's change that to 75/25. Does that help? Yes, but only a little, and only for one election. And let's move the Asian vote that Obama won by 74% to 50/50. Republicans could win maybe two cycles, 2016 and 2020, and then no more. Next, let's move the Hispanic vote close to what happened in the 2004 election, when George Bush captured nearly 40% of it. Only then do Republicans become competitive for a couple of decades. So with the majority of our current immigrants being Hispanic, and an even larger percentage of our illegal immigrants being Hispanic, if conservatives and/or Republicans are perceived as somehow hostile to Hispanics, they (we) are on a path to inexorable demographic decline. We ought to keep one eye on these trends as we approach the immigration issue in general and the legislation that is likely to come before the full Senate in a week or two in particular.

As conservatives, we should approach this issue like any other: from the standpoint of the foundational principles of our nation and our movement. That means rule of law, but it also means limited government, personal freedom, economic freedom, personal responsibility, a strong national defense and fiscal discipline, all grounded in reality. For most of us, it means securing the border first so that anything else we do does not attract a new wave of illegal immigrants. It also means protecting the jobs of our citizens and doing all that we can to return our economy to hearty private sector economic growth instead of the prolonged economic paralysis of almost no growth and unemployment and under-employment in the range of ten percent overall and much worse for some groups. So the economic impacts of immigration, both positive and negative, must be taken into account, as do the national security impacts.

We can probably all agree that the current system is broken. It threatens respect for the law, public safety, and economic security. Some say that it is tantamount to amnesty because it tolerates illegality without much consequence. Others claim that the proposed bill is even worse, because it will use the force of law to achieve real amnesty, sparking a new wave of uncontrollable illegal immigration. Some argue that our economy needs immigration as a necessary precondition for growth in the face of falling birth rates and 55 million abortions in the last 40 years. Others argue that immigration undermines our economy and weakens the job market for all, not just those at the unskilled level. These are the important sub issues, or component issues, in the immigration debate that we will struggle with today.

If we approach the immigration debate with true intellectual integrity and discourage even those with whom we agree from taking cheap shots — and if we articulate conservative principles grounded in reality — conservatives can win the immigration debate because conservative principles applied as national policy will always produce greeter prosperity, freedom and personal responsibility than the prescriptions of the left. But if we blow it, we'll be consigning our movement to demographic winter.

(Colin Hanna is President of Let Freedom Ring, USA and a commentator on American Radio Journal.)