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December 31, 2004

Brewing GOP Civil War on Immigration

No issue is potentially more explosive for the GOP than immigration, where core constituencies of the conservative movement are ready to go to war with each other over the issue. While Democrats have tensions on the issues, the reality is that core progressive constituencies -- civil rights groups, unions, environmentalists -- have a general consensus that anti-immigrant policies will be counter-productive.

Not so many conservative groups, who see immigration as threatening their social values and nationalist/racist views of who should be an American.

And so you get warnings, like this one from conservative analyst David Frum:

No issue, not one, threatens to do more damage to the Republican coalition than immigration. There's no issue where the beliefs and interests of the party rank-and-file diverge more radically from the beliefs and interests of the party's leaders. . . Bush is already signaling that he intends to revive the amnesty/guestworker immigration plan he introduced a year ago--and hastily dropped after it ignited a firestorm of opposition. This plan dangerously divides the Republican party and affronts crucial segments of the Republican vote.
Frum argues that lower-income members of the GOP coalition resent any plan to regularize employment of undocumented immigrants:
Employers who use illegal labor have systematically distorted the American labor market by reducing wages and evading taxes in violation of the rules that others follow. The president's plans ratify this gaming of the system and encourage more of it. It invites entry by an ever-expanding number of low-skilled workers, threatening the livelihoods of low-skilled Americans--the very same ones who turned out for the president in November.
Frum thinks Democrats could exploit this tension with an anti-immigrant policy, but the more real point is that progressives can highlight the fact that Bush may want to encourage low-wage exploited immigrant labor, but opposes any policies that would raise wages for all workers, including immigrants.

There is no reason immigration should undermine wage standards in the US, as long as immigrants have all the rights that native workers have to fight for better conditions. The toxic combination that we have in the US right now is that we have a whole population of undocumented immigrants who have few labor rights-- meaning that employers happily substitute native workers with immigrants who can not fight for their rights. Conservatives think the solution is to eliminate the immigrants themselves, but restoring the labor rights of immigrant workers will solve the problem far more effectively.

Posted by Nathan at December 31, 2004 09:31 AM