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Ignore the open-borders right - and the WSJ spin

By W. James Antle III
web posted December 6, 2004

Wall Street Journal senior editorial writer Jason Riley doesn't think much of conservatives who don't accept his employer's "there shall be open borders" dogma. Consequently, his occasional op-ed pieces slamming what he calls the "anti-immigrant right" demonstrate no effort to engage their arguments or confront immigration realities that might complicate his facile talking points.

In an Opinion Journal article last week, Riley accused conservative immigration realists of spinning the 2004 election results. He insisted that "(e)xit polls put the president's share of the Latino vote at around 45 percent" nationally and "Mr. Bush upped his share of that vote to 59 percent" in Texas, proving that Republicans can win Hispanic votes by supporting relaxed immigration controls.

For the nationwide data, Riley was relying on the National Election Pool's exit poll that famously triggered a wave of predictions that John Kerry would be elected president. Its numbers were contradicted by some independent exit polls, such as one by the William C. Velasquez Institute that more closely targeted Hispanics (though, in fairness, I personally think their numbers are probably too low). Many pollsters concluded the 44 (not 45) percent figure was debatable; Steve Sailer's analysis found it internally inconsistent and technically flawed.

In fact, within days of Riley's article media outlets began issuing corrections. The Associated Press has revised its estimate of Bush's support among Texas Hispanics downward. Instead of a 59 percent Bush win, their figures show that Kerry edged Bush 50 percent to 49 percent among Latino Texans. NBC has announced a similar revision of its national exit poll, showing Hispanic support for Bush at 40 percent -- closer to the 39 percent estimated by such NEP skeptics as Sailer and Ruy Teixeira.

Oops. Bad timing, Jason. Who's really doing the spinning here?

This would be a minor technical dispute if it weren't for misleading open-borders polemicists. After all, most conservatives would love to see increased support for the GOP among Hispanics and other minorities. But the problem is that commentators keep reciting bogus numbers to invent a political constituency for immigration policies that are bad for America -- and rejected by most Americans across racial and ethnic lines.

Consider Arizona's Proposition 200, which Riley dismissed as a "redundant ballot measure" that merely "bans illegal aliens from receiving government services that are already off-limits to them." Never mind that the purpose of the proof-of-citizenship requirements was to actually enforce those existing laws. Arizonans also hoped their precision would make it harder for federal judges to do unto their democratic decision-making as was done to their California neighbors who voted for Proposition 187 - no such luck.

Proposition 200 received 47 percent of the Hispanic vote, a higher percentage than even the NEP claimed for President Bush. No doubt it would have done even better if it weren't for ethnic-identity activists and fear mongers who claimed the initiative would lead to the disenfranchisement of legal Latino residents. Riley's condescending assumption is that the best way to appeal to Hispanic Americans is for Republicans to tolerate widespread illegal immigration. The most reliably Republican Hispanics, Cuban-Americans, were drawn to the GOP by anti-communism. Some can be attracted by social conservatism.

Most Hispanic Americans who vote -- and would consider pulling the lever for a Republican -- would not benefit from amnesty for illegals. Instead, many of them would see their wages depressed and their livelihoods endangered.

Not content to peddle snake oil suggesting that uncontrolled immigration is good for American Hispanics, Riley also pretended it is not so bad for Republicans. In his Opinion Journal piece, he counseled them to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain when faced with the fact that the successful Bush reelection campaign was never competitive in California. His arguments were unpersuasive.

Riley conceded that the Golden State has become a Democratic bastion: "(B)ut before pinning before pinning this on the Mexican influx, consider that California's cultural liberalism has long been a magnet for Democrats." (Like Richard Nixon? Ronald Reagan? Bob Dornan?) Riley's next excuse was "the depleted Republican base as many middle-class whites in search of a better quality of life decamp for Boise, Tempe, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore." (What happened to their quality of life in California?)

Most deceptively, Riley trotted out the familiar mantra that Proposition 187 was a PR disaster that destroyed the California GOP. But signs of realignment toward the Democrats were evident for several years prior to the famed ballot initiative to deny taxpayer funds to illegal immigrants. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein took both the state's Senate seats in 1992. Proposition 187 passed with 59 percent of the vote and Pete Wilson, one of the few Republicans smart enough to embrace it, rescued his 1994 reelection campaign from a likely defeat.

Republicans didn't win the California governorship again until Arnold Schwarzenegger prevailed in the 2003 recall election. The Terminator voted for Proposition 187, opposed drivers' licenses for illegal aliens -- and still managed to win about 30 percent of the Hispanic vote against Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

Rather than face any of these facts, Riley then pivoted by claiming that maybe California is an outlier. Several states with large immigrant populations are red, most notably Florida, Colorado and Arizona.

Yet Florida is hardly a one-party GOP state, as the 2000 recount debacle amply demonstrated. And it doesn't hurt that middle-class, socially conservative Castro foes in the Cuban-American community make up one of the state's largest immigrant groups. Texas is also home to many assimilated, culturally conservative Hispanics but the areas with the largest unassimilated immigrant populations are heavily Democratic. Colorado, Arizona and Nevada still mainly vote Republican, but Democrats have become much more competitive in each of these states due to mass immigration (they were all listed as battleground states by professional election-watchers during the campaign).

But the real political consequences of open borders don't matter to Riley. To him, these are the "demographic facts of life in America today." Actually, unregulated mass immigration is the result of a conscious policy choice that voices like the Wall Street Journal editorial page constantly urge our political class to make.

And they're not interested in any debate on the issue. Instead of trying to refute contrary arguments, Riley responded with name-calling and derision. The measured, intelligent advocates at FAIR and Numbers USA are dismissed as "keepers of the Malthusian flame." Thomas Sowell is quoted offering a rejoinder to "these alarmists," without noting any of his critical comments about our post-1965 immigration policies or that he produced a generally favorable review of Peter Brimelow's book Alien Nation.

At least Riley saw fit to mention the above people and groups by name. Not so the next two targets of his barbs. Samuel Huntington's complex thesis in Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity (which only partly touches on immigration) is reduced to "social conservatives preaching ethnocentrism" and Heather MacDonald's recent work on immigrant gangs is caricatured as an irrational belief that "Latino men are congenital gangbangers."

The moral of Riley's screed: "Immigration reform would go along way toward solidifying the GOP's majority status." This is likely the case, but not the kind of immigration reform that he and the Journal have in mind. American immigration history has been characterized by large waves of newcomers followed by periods with reduced entries. It is during these pauses that immigrants who entered during waves tend to become assimilated.

Hispanics are likely to shift from the Democrats to the Republicans under the same conditions that Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans did -- after years of assimilation during an immigration time-out. As for the rest of the electorate, polls have repeatedly shown huge majorities in favor of controlling the borders and enforcing immigration laws.

Support for amnesty and euphemistic guest-workers programs, on the other hand, is mainly limited to the Wall Street Journal editorial page and a few other elite sectors. Taking Jason Riley's advice would be a poor way for the GOP to build a lasting majority -- and an even worse approach to shaping American immigration policy.

W. James Antle III is an assistant editor of The American Conservative and a senior editor for Enter Stage Right. The views expressed above represent his alone.

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