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GOP Goes for Broke in Effort to Stoke Fears Over Immigrants

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Enacting a path to citizenship for immigrants will be a powerful rebuke to right-wing xenophobia


Republicans and right-wing media are increasingly promoting dangerous xenophobic tropes that put a target on the backs of immigrants. GOP leaders are deploying the incendiary term “invasion,” pushing the racist “replacement theory,” and scapegoating migrants as the cause for the GOP’s own COVID failures. Unless countered and called out, this rhetoric will lead to more bloodshed. 

These ideas were once relegated to the extreme corners of the far right. Not anymore. They’ve become talking points in the GOP electoral strategy. The message is unmistakable. As author Julissa Arce put it, “The idea is that we don’t belong here. That we present a threat. That America isn’t ours.” Disturbingly, Republican voters increasingly embrace political violence as a means of holding onto power, and despite the fact that racist tropes inspire racist violence, leaders in the GOP continue to throw gas on the fire:

  • Dehumanizing “invasion” rhetoric and its real world consequences: Republicans have been reviving the dehumanizing and dangerous rhetoric of a migrant “invasion.” Believing this twisted lie, two different white nationalists took to mass murder in El Paso and Pittsburgh. In spite of deadly consequences, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Rep. Bob Good, and several others have peddled “invasion” rhetoric over the last two months. Even the once pro-immigrant Sen. Lindsey Graham has taken to parroting “invasion” white nationalist talking points to attack citizenship legislation.
  • GOP leaning into the age-old nativist trope of labeling immigrants as public health threats – despite Republicans’ outsized role in anti-vaccination hysteria. Using an old stand-by of the white nationalists, the Governor of Texas and other leading Republicans are accusing immigrants of causing the spread of COVID. Of note, Texas has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country and Governor Abbott has prevented local governments from enacting mask mandates and vaccination requirements even as the Delta variant surges. The latest incarnation of the “immigrants as disease carriers” trope has long and ugly roots: see here and here.
  • The white nationalist “replacement theory has become a central talking point for Republicans and right-wing media. Breitbart proclaims “The Democrat party’s ‘replacement theory’ is currently in full flower.” Newt Gringrich, in a recent Fox News appearance, proclaimed “the anti-American left would love to drown traditional classic Americans with as many people as they can who know nothing of American history, nothing of American tradition, nothing of the rule of the law…..this is their ideal model to get rid of the rest of us.” The Replacement theory gained notoriety after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the the terrorist attacks in El Paso and Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, Republicans and right-wing pundits are pushing the theory openly. This is how Tucker Carlson puts it: “Now, I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term “replacement,” if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.”

As Atlantic columnist James Fallows noted today in response to Newt Gingrich (expanded from abbreviated Twitter speak): “Anti-immigrant fomenters of every era said what Newt Gingrich says here: These outsiders will swamp us! Said of Chinese mid-1850s; Said of Irish (and Germans) around same time; Said of every European group you can think of (Jews, Italians, etc) pre-WW I; of the ‘rest of world’ from 1965 onward…They’ve been wrong every time. Absorbing the world’s talents, energies, and idealism is *the* crucial American advantage.”

Following the lead of Donald Trump, Republicans are openly deploying dangerous xenophobic and white nationalist talking points. They have not moderated after losing elections nor after their supporters engaged in racist violence incited by GOP rhetoric. Instead, they have gotten more extreme. As Rep. Veronica Escobar explains, Republican leaders are not ignorant of the implications of their rhetoric. She said, “They know full well that their xenophobic racist rhetoric feeds hatred, and they know full well that that hatred fuels violence. And who are the victims of the violence? It is, we have seen in Texas, vulnerable communities like ours.”

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

It’s not just Trump. The Republican Party attacks the non-white ‘other’ to mobilize white identity voters and to distract from their lack of solutions. Democrats need to respond by calling out the radicalization of the Republican Party and by leaning in to solve problems that show they will not be bullied or intimidated.

One of those solutions is to enact legislation that creates a path to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers and essential workers. Republicans oppose these measures because of who they have become. Democrats can show the multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational coalition that voted them into power that they are going to stand up for an America where We the People includes all of us. This is not only popular with the vast majority of Americans, it will be a powerful rebuke of the Republican message that non-white immigrants are to be feared not included.