Skip to main content

On immigration, GOP offers fear, not ideas

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
June 28, 2013 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: GOP naysayers hammer at immigration reform, but offer no ideas
  • He says a few Republicans voted yes on Senate bill, but even those came at high cost
  • He says immigration advocate Reagan would be ashamed of party's fear-mongering
  • He says GOP peddles illogical, inaccurate reasons to hold up immigration reform

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

(CNN) -- It's depressing to see what has become of the Republican Party, where immigration is concerned.

A political party that, just 30 years ago, stood tall in defense of freedom and embodied the limitless opportunity for which America is famous is now stuck playing defense.

We've gone from Ronald Reagan declaring, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" in Berlin to Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota demanding another 700 miles of border fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

At least these two senators are proposing something. The naysayers who have pounded away daily at the Senate immigration bill in the hopes of defeating it have not, for the most part, set forth any credible or reasonable proposals of their own. The best they can do is to block what someone else has proposed. That's their definition of victory.

That's the game in the House of Representatives, where the debate is headed now that the Senate has approved the immigration reform bill by a vote of 68 to 32.

The "yes" votes included 14 from Republicans. Many of them came at a high price -- more than $30 billion in new border enforcement measures, via the Corker-Hoeven amendment. But where are the new ideas about how to provide a legal workforce of laborers who will do jobs that Americans shun? Where was the effort to streamline the legal immigration process so that those who play by the rules aren't punished for doing so?

Aside from the four Republican senators in the Gang of Eight -- Marco Rubio, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake -- most of the senators who voted "yes" on the final bill had offered nothing to make it better. Leadership requires more than simply voting the right way.

Reagan, who said during the 1980 campaign that he supported giving legal status to illegal immigrants and who in 1986 signed an amnesty bill that legalized more than 3 million people -- would be ashamed of what has become of his party.

Today, when it comes to immigration, there is no imagination, boldness or grandeur. Republican leaders could choose to pitch Americans on several big themes -- optimism, hope, renewal, confidence, etc. They could try to convince us that our country's best days are ahead of it, and that immigrants will help lead the way.

Bumpy road for immigration in House
McCain: Immigration bill is strong

Instead, Republicans are doing what comes easy: peddling fear and scaring the wits out of everyday Americans.

This is not exactly new. In the mid-18th century, Benjamin Franklin tried to scare his fellow Americans into thinking that German immigrants would soon "be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of us Anglifying them." Later, it was feared that the Chinese were "not assimilable" into society, that the Irish were -- in the words of Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts -- "diminishing the quality of our citizenship," and that the Italians were naturally predisposed to criminal behavior.

And of course, no matter who was coming ashore, there were always the perennial fears that newcomers take jobs, consume resources, spread disease, crowd schools and lower the standard of living for everyone else. Remarkably, over the last 230 years, the script has stayed pretty much the same. Only the actors changed.

This so-called nation of immigrants has always been afraid of immigrants.

I've been listening in to the latest round of fear mongering -- "Fear 2.0" -- which is epitomized by the handful of Republican lawmakers, and their allies, who have spent the last few months trying to defeat the Senate bill. You hear it from talk radio, right-wing blogs and conservative columnists.

The goal is to convince us that, if Congress passes immigration reform and grants legal status to millions of illegal immigrants, Americans should be afraid of 10 things.

-- that those who gain legal status will include, in the words of the union representing immigration agents, child molesters, drunken drivers and gang members;

-- that more immigrants will come illegally in the months to come, because of the promise of legalization;

-- that more immigrants will come legally in the years to come, sponsored by newly legalized family members;

-- that those who get legal status won't learn English or assimilate but instead create a country within a country;

-- that the newly legalized will go on welfare, usurp public benefits and bankrupt the system;

-- that this is a fool's errand for the GOP because the immigrants won't vote for Republicans anyway;

-- that the newly legalized might, upon becoming citizens, actually punish Republicans for years of mistreatment;

-- that the country is changing demographically to the point where whites will soon be in the minority, and a legalization program would only speed up the process;

-- that immigrants will worsen population growth, overcrowd our schools, and lower Americans' standard of living;

-- and, finally, that this will create, as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas claims, a "de facto affirmative action" by providing an incentive to employers to hire them over U.S. citizens because they're not covered by Obamacare mandates.

This is the Republican message in all its glory. It's based on speculation and half-truths and worst-case scenarios that make the most sense to those who know the least about immigrants.

It's not accurate. It's not logical. It's not pretty. And it's not helpful.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1827 GMT (0227 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT