Conservative Anger Over Immigration Isn’t That Complicated


Ramesh Ponnuru writes today that Nikki Haley has paid a price for her squishy stance on immigration:

For these comments, she was denounced in some quarters as a moderate who had declared war on her own party’s strongest supporters. Both the speech and the reaction offer more evidence that immigration control is becoming a more important, and defining, issue for conservatives.

Why the issue has become central is less clear. It’s not because the problem of illegal immigration is growing; it has fallen in recent years. But that decline has coincided with at least seven factors that have raised the political importance of immigration for the right.

Low economic growth…..Demographic changes among Republicans….The growth of the immigrant population….The unresponsiveness of elites….Partisan politics….The progress of arguments among conservatives….Cascading effects.

I don’t get this. In 2007 George Bush tried to pass an immigration bill, but the conservative base rose up in anger and killed it. In 2013 Barack Obama tried to pass an immigration bill, but the conservative base rose up in anger and killed it. Basically, conservative skepticism of immigration has been growing ever since 1986, when Reagan’s immigration bill offered amnesty to millions but failed to reduce the flow of immigrants across the southern border.

Ponnuru may or may not be right about the reasons for conservative anger—I suspect that culture shock and outright racism are the most likely causes, just as they are in lots of other countries—but there really shouldn’t be any surprise about this. The conservative base has been outraged about illegal immigration for at least a decade, and probably longer. Now that Obama is explicitly trying to outmaneuver them and broaden amnesty using executive orders, they’re even more outraged, and folks like Donald Trump are exploiting that. There’s really no need to make it any more complicated.