Anti-immigrant sentiment on the decline nationwide

By Alan Bean

As the summer heats up, anti-immigrant rhetoric has been cooling considerably.  Or, to be more precise, mainstream politicians are beginning to understand the downside of siding with the haters. 

In an interview in which he was predictably critical of Barack Obama, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, tried to pull his party back from the brink on the immigration issue:

“It’s the one thing that separates us from the rest of the world is to say embrace our values, learn our language and work hard and dream big and create what you want to create because it helps all of us.  You have to deal with this issue, you can’t ignore it and so either a path to citizenship which I would support and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives or … a path to residency of some kind.”

In Vermont, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia, public officials are in full-scale revolt against the now-mandatory Safe Communities program.

California legislators are close to passing a TRUST Act which would “require police to continue to detain only those immigrants for deportation purposes who have a serious or violent felony conviction under state law”.  TRUST is a somewhat desperate acronym for “Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools”.

TRUST is hardly a radical piece of legislation; it simply means that, in California, the kinder, gentler version of Safe Communities will be enforced instead of the “deport everybody” approach that has been in vogue in many jurisdictions over the past couple of years.

In Texas, the state Republican Party dropped much of the mean-spirited, anti-immigrant language from its platform in the course of its state convention in Fort Worth.  According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the new statement begins like this:

 “Because of decades-long failure of the federal government to secure our borders and address the immigration issue, there are now upwards of 11 million undocumented individuals in the United States today, each of whom entered and remain here under different circumstances,” the document states. “Mass deportation of these individuals would neither be equitable nor practical.We seek common ground to develop and advance a conservative, market-and law-based approach to our nation’s immigration issues.”

This “Texas Solution” calls for a temporary worker program “to bring skilled and unskilled workers into the United States for temporary periods of time when no U.S. workers are currently available.”

In addition, “the program would require participants to pay fees and fines, pass a criminal background check, prove they can afford private health insurance and waive rights to apply for public financial assistance.”

This new immigration policy is hardly a panacea for proponents of comprehensive immigration reform, but it’s a vast improvement over the  “what part of illegal do you not understand?” approach that has dominated conservative politics since the advent of the Tea Party revolution.

According to Bud Kennedy, a Star-Telegram columnist who attended the Republican Convention, the new GOP platform is driven by demographic reality.

“I’d start telling Hispanic voters about Republicans, and they’d say, ‘I’m pro-life, too, but you want to deport my grandma,'” said Norman Adams of Houston, celebrating the Texas party’s 180-degree turn away from its position of removing all illegal immigrants and slowing legal immigration.

“They can’t say that anymore.”

Texas has always been a one-party state.  It was once impossible to win statewide office if you ran as a Republican, and the same is now true for Democrats.  But with the Hispanic slice of the electorate growing by 2% with every new election cycle in Texas, the GOP mainstream is beginning to read the writing on the wall.
Tea Party reaction to the state GOP’s softened stance on immigration was predictable–they think the new policy represents a de facto amnesty for “illegals”.
It doesn’t, of course.  The presence of non-citizens would merely be tolerated under the proposed policy, there would be no fast track to citizenship, and beneficiaries of the new regime would have to relinquish their right to public assistance.  In short, we are talking about a permanent class of second-class citizens.  But, as Kennedy suggests, people who live in fear that Grandma could be deported at any moment may be happy with half a loaf.
If Texas Democrats want the enthusiastic support of Texas Latinos, they need to move to the left of state Republicans on immigration, something they have been reluctant to do.  Democrats know white conservatives will control Texas politics for at least another decade, so they are reluctant to sell themselves as the party of inclusion and diversity.  The blue party was hoping it could win Latino support by largely ignoring the immigration issue and allowing the GOP’s nativist and xenophobic platform to drive Latino voters into the democratic party by default. 
The Texas GOP may just have taken that option off the table.