Rush Limbaugh asked a very good question: if immigration reform is so great for Republicans, why are Democrats in favor of it. And Jonathan Chait provided an answer: because Democrats will still get more credit for it than Republicans. And if it fails, Democrats have to be in the position to say that it wasn’t their fault. Chait is correct, but I think there is a more important point: Democrats agree with the policy.
This is the fundamental problem with the Republican Party. It has become nothing but an opposition party. Its ideology basically comes down to: whatever the Democrats are against. The Democratic Party still maintains a traditional approach to policy: they would be thrilled if the Republicans agreed with them on anything. In fact, just look at Obamacare. That was a big push by the Democrats to create a bill that would appeal to the Republicans. The Democrats want to find common ground because there are actual things they want to do. The whole Republican position is that there will be no common ground. The few things they seem to believe in are placed so far outside normal debate as to be safe. Somehow, I feel that if the Democrats decided that the Estate Tax should be repealed, the Republicans would say that we needed to provide a tax credit to rich people when they die.
Let’s think about immigration. Most of the people who are living in America illegally sacrificed a great deal to come here. Many of them risked their lives. In fact, a great many people have died trying to get to this country. Who in their right mind thinks they do this so they can get on welfare? If conservatives were honest, they would admit that the kind of people who come here illegally are exactly the kind of people we want in this country. These are people who really value what this country stands for and what it has to offer. I understand that we don’t want to incentivize people coming here illegally. But that isn’t the argument that conservatives make against providing a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people who are here illegally. Instead, the argument is: they broke the law! Yeah, they broke the law because they love this country. Isn’t that worth something?
So why are Republicans against immigration reform? Part of it is just bigotry. The base and to a lesser extent the elite of the party don’t like immigrants—and that includes legal immigrants. This is all part of the narrative that America was founded by white Christians. Somehow, the less white and less Christian we become, the less authentic we are. This is the basis of the hatred of diversity. You’ll note that there is no complaint about Canadian immigration, even though at many times in the past there were much greater economic opportunities in America. But they are all white and they all speak English. Well, almost all.
But there is another important aspect to resistance to immigration reform—although admittedly, not nearly as important as bigotry. Republicans have often been more than willing to ignore their base if the business community wanted something enough. And they surely do want immigration reform—especially this bill that has all kinds of goodies for them. None of that can really trump the imperative that they are against anything the Democrats are for.
Rush Limbaugh is right to ask what immigration reform gets the Republicans. As I’ve argued a lot, Latinos hate the Republican Party for far more than their stand on immigration. In fact, that isn’t even the primary issue. Immigration is the least that Republicans can do for the Latino community and at best they will do it only grudgingly. People aren’t stupid; they know when you hate them; and they don’t like that. So what does immigration reform get Republicans given they are unwilling to do anything else? Damned little.