The GOP’s alien agenda

Who said this?

“Immigration to this country is increasing and is making its greatest relative increase from races most alien to the body of the American people and from the lowest and most illiterate classes among those races … half of whom have no occupation and most of whom represent the rudest form of labor.

“The immigrants who come to the United States reduce the rate of wages by ruinous competition, and then take their savings out of the country. Home as a foreign country. … They have no interest or stake in country and never become American citizens.” Many, he went on, are genetically prone to crime, insanity and disease.

Five points credit if you guessed it isn’t Rep. (and late presidential candidate) Tom “throw all illegals out” Tancredo of Colorado, or Mitt Romney, or Rush Limbaugh or Lou Dobbs of CNN. Two more points if you recognized it as not coming from anyone in this century. A perfect 10 if you traced it back to the last decades of the 19th century.

The author, in a pair of articles on “The Restriction of Immigration” for The Atlantic magazine in 1891, was Rep. (later Sen.) Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. His undesirables were Jews, Italians, Poles and Hungarians, people like Tancredo’s Sicilian great-grandparents. In those days, of course, everybody was undocumented.

So you can say that the current debate among GOP candidates Rudy Giuliani and Romney about who would be the meanest, toughest guy on illegal immigration is in an American tradition almost as old as immigration itself. Giuliani’s father, an Italian immigrant who served prison time for robbery, and was a collector for Giuliani’s mob-connected uncle, would have been a perfect example for Lodge.

The tradition goes back to the Salem witch trials – and “No Irish Need Apply” and “The Chinese Must Go,” and “Japs keep moving.” Not all of it was overtly racist. The official targets of the Great Red Scare of the 1920s were communists and anarchists, although most of them also happened to be Italian immigrants. In the notorious Sacco-Vanzetti case, two Italian immigrant anarchists were convicted and executed for a robbery-murder in Braintree, Mass. in 1920 that they probably didn’t commit.

And there was, of course, the pursuit of communists, alleged communists and “fellow travelers” in the 1950s, and the blacklists and loyalty oaths that came with it. Americans were encouraged (and often pressured) to denounce colleagues and associates they suspected. Hollywood producers, politicians and university trustees, including the regents of the University of California, folded under the pressure. Many of the blacklisted never recovered.

The present furor about illegal immigrants isn’t quite like any of those things. But the attempt to exploit anti-immigrant rage and fear by politicians such as Romney and Giuliani and by the radio talkers that thrive on the issue comes awfully close.

A new Arizona law that will go into effect next Tuesday if it’s not blocked by the courts would yank the license of any business employing illegals. In that respect, it’s similar to hundreds of other state laws and local ordinances passed in the past year.

But its invitation to ordinary people to report to local authorities any businesses they believe employ illegals makes it a great vehicle for race-baiters and grudge-bearers.

Some Republicans, Karl Rove probably included, are tearing their hair. Rove and his former boss, George W. Bush, worked hard to appeal to the growing body of Latino voters. But like John McCain, they got ripped for their sponsorship of the comprehensive immigration reform bill that got filibustered to death by hard-liners last June.

And now that immigration is again a hot-button issue, Romney and Giuliani, among others, have taken a page from former California Gov. Pete Wilson’s old 1994 playbook, trading short-term political gain for disastrous long-term losses in support from the growing ranks of Latino voters. “Some in the party seem pleased,” said former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. “They should be terrified.”

Until recently, McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee were the honorable exceptions among the GOP candidates. Huckabee, who got whacked by Romney for backing in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, replied, “In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did.” But since then, as he rose in the polls (and read the polls) he’s signed on to his own version of the Tancredo creed. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, like Giuliani another recent convert who’s read the same polls, is running for cover.

The damage is not only to rational discourse about immigration but in the futile diversion from the real sources of the real fears — about off-shoring and job security, health care, corporate power and fraud and a long list of fading certainties — that feed the issue. Sooner or later we’ll probably look back at this episode with the same embarrassment and shame as we did the others, but it could be an ugly time until we get there.

(Contact Peter Schrag


  1. adamrussell

    Illegals depress the wage market not because they are foreigners, but because they are illegal. They have greatly inhibited chances for negotiation of higher wages because they always fear deportation. In turn, all legal workers in those areas of employ are also inhibited from negotiating higher wage. In turn all economies that depend on those wage earners spending habits become depressed. This ripple effect continues through the entire economy. The answer is that it is wrong to allow them to stay but make them stay as illegals. Make up your minds. Either you want them to stay and you should make them legal, or if you dont want to grant legal status you should send them home. No middle ground.

  2. bryan mcclellan

    Well put Adam. Every six weeks I get a new group of trade students with an average age in the thirties.The jobs they held are now filled by illegals ,or cheap untrained immigrant labor, or their jobs have simply been outsourced.They have no hope of securing better than minimum wage as a result of employer greed and indifference to job quality.The first thing I tell them is to learn their trade well as there will be an explosion of repair work to be done in the near future as a result of exactly the point you make.We are being driven down the road to mediocrity in all phases of our society because the powers that be can’t make up their minds ,or they just don’t give a damn about America anymore.PMFOT’s

  3. SEAL

    I am so fed up with all this rhetoric about illegal immigrants and such silly ideas or proposls such giving them drivers licenses or some other nonsense. The feds won’t do anything for fear of losing votes so the states are creating ridiculous laws to make criminals out of business men and women to try to solve their own problems. But all that does is create court battles.

    Illegal immigrants are breaking the law. They cannot stay here. Don’t talk to me about all the expense of rounding them up and deporting them. We are spending millions trying to do that, now, and not even making a dent in it.

    There is a much less expensive way to get rid of all the illegals in this country. In fact, it would cost us nothing. All congress would have to do is pass a bill requiring every employer in the nation to furnish a list of all their employees and copies of proof of their citizenship every 90 days.

    There would have to be fines and criminal penalties attached to make it scary enough to prevent employers from “hiding” a few under the table or playing the “deadline” game with some mandatory jail time so the wealthy society ladies would be afraid to keep those maids they now have for pennies a day.

    Pass that bill and you would see spanish caravans heading South in about 30 days – Mass self deportation.

    I know nothing of the impact this would have on the meat packing industry that I am told hire many illegals but farms and construction would suddenly have plenty of job openings. I will explain how these businesses have operated for many years.

    In each area there will be one to several (depending on the size of the area) “Boss” mexicans that are legal citizens. They have many illegals they have formed into “crews” specializing in different types of work. The farmer or contractor calls the “Boss” and tells him what he needs. They negotiate a price for the crew(s). The Boss is responsible for delivering the crews on time, he supervises, and he translates all the orders because none of the illegals speak English. The farmer or contractor hands the paychecks to the Boss who takes his nice fat supervisor wage and then gives his crew their minimum (or less) wage checks. Boss makes a very good living. Crew lives 10 to a room in some slum lords dump, gets drunk every Friday night, and sends half of their weekly pay home.

    The farmer or contractor can hire the manpower to do his job for less than half what it would cost to hire legal workers. And he gets workers that always show up on time and work hard with no complaints. Go out to any field at picking time or any construction site and you will see only 10% white and black americans. The rest will be spanish. Now, this is not 100% true. It depends upon the area and the type of population. But anywhere there is a sufficient illegal population it will be this way.

    Pass this bill and the cost of food and housing will go up about 10%. So will the quality of the food and construction. Get congress to pass this bill and it would solve the illegal immigant problem in a very short period of time, create millions of job openings, and cost the taxpayer almost nothing. If they can’t work here they will go home and the slum lords will have to close down those rat traps.