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A Rough Start in 2014 for the Anti-Immigrant Movement

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Choice for GOP is Clear: Be Defined by the Nativists or Be Competitive With a Changing American Electorate

It’s been a bad week for the anti-immigrant movement.  Actually, it’s been a bad couple of years.  They are facing criticism from the right, their standing with Republicans is waning and they have zero influence with Democrats.

This is a remarkable reversal of fortune.  Just a few years ago, some of the groups founded by the controversial John Tanton – Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) and Numbers USA – seemed to be influential and on offense.  Today, they are increasingly marginalized.

Here are some key recent developments that highlight the anti-immigrant movement’s growing problems:

House Republican Leaders Announce Plans to Move Forward on Immigration Reform. At a Republican caucus meeting yesterday, Speaker Boehner (R-OH) promised that Republican leadership soon publish principles for an immigration reform overhaul as a prelude to legislative action later in the spring.  This is a stunning rejection of the anti-immigrant movement’s “hell no” stance.  Their weakness was further underscored this week when a House Republican letter opposing reform attracted a paltry 16 signatories.  This pales compared to the 190 House Democratic co-sponsors of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, the 29 House Republicans who publicly support reform with a path to citizenship and a much larger number of House Republicans who support some form of legalization for undocumented immigrants.

Chris Christie Signs New Jersey DREAM Act into Law:  Earlier this week (and before the whole bridge thing blew up) 2016 Republican presidential contender and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law his state’s version of the DREAM Act.  It shows that Christie gets what Mitt Romney did not: Republican primary voters will support a candidate that can broaden the party’s appeal, and Latino voters will support a candidate that stand up for immigrants and face down the hardliners.  There’s significant evidence to suggest he’s right.  Leaning into pro-reform policy is unlikely to hurt him in the primary (see this 2011 poll of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa) and is likely to help in the general election with Latino voters – provided House Republicans don’t block immigration reform before 2016 and saddle their nominee with a permanently damaged brand.

Center for Immigration Studies Sticks Foot in Mouth, Again:  The faux “think tank” at the heart of the anti-immigrant crowd, CIS, has been especially close to Republican leadership in the House Judiciary Committee.  Former Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and current Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) regularly invite CIS to testify before the committee and CIS staffers are known to work hand in glove with committee staff.  And while CIS strains to minimize the taint of the anti-immigrant movement’s extremism, occasionally the truth outs.  For example, CIS’s Mark Krikorian has said that Muslims are “a vicious people,” that in the past “social pressure” for “Anglo-conformity” would have compelled Sonia Sotomayor to change her last name so it would be easier to pronounce and that Haiti is “so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.”  This past week CIS’s Stephen Steinlight followed suit.  He told the Washington Times the growth of the Latino voting population could lead to “the unmaking of America” and “make the Democrats the PRI [Partido Revolucionario Institucional, in Spanish] of America.” In a speech last year Steinlight warned against the possibility of a Latino civil rights movement, noting that it “will look like the civil rights movement for African Americans, but I can promise you it will be a lot bloodier.”  Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennfier Rubin had this to say about Steinlight’s comments and Republicans who follow CIS:  “Conservatives who oppose immigration reform would do well to distance themselves from such cranks, lest they be accused of sharing such views.  So really the question becomes: Do House Republicans want to run as [Rep. Paul] Ryan Republicans or as CIS Republicans?”

Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Anti-Immigrant Groups are About to be Further Exposed:  Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio calls himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” But after decades of harassing Latinos, targeting political enemies and abusing his authority, the Arizona Republic has renamed him “America’s Most Expensive Sheriff.”  That’s because taxpayers are footing the bill for growing legal fees as well as the $21.9 million required by a federal finding of discrimination against Latinos.  Last year a federal judge declared Arpaio and his department guilty of targeting Latinos, and ordered a court-appointed monitor to oversee the office for a minimum of three years.  On top of that, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton recently rejected pleas from anti-immigrant groups and ordered the release of email exchanges between them and the lawmakers who crafted Arizona’s SB 1070, the state’s notorious “show me your papers” law.  The emails are expected to show whether racial animus was a motivating force behind the effort to drive Latino immigrants from the state.  Get ready for some serious ugly.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Speaker Boehner and House GOP are facing a choice of historic proportions: Do they blow past the loud-but-not-large nativist slice of the party, stand with the majority of the GOP electorate that supports immigration reform and improve their competitiveness with the fastest growing groups of voters in America?  Or do they block immigration reform and make permanent the GOP’s reputation as an anti-immigrant, anti-Latino party?  Given the steep decline of the anti-immigrant movement, the decision shouldn’t be that difficult.