The politics of xenophobia

| Thu Mar. 31, 2005 1:38 PM EST

Via Amanda Marcotte, the latest bit of anti-immigrant nuttery floating through Congress is this pleasant little bill that would strip citizenship from all children born to illegal immigrants in the United States. Y'know, to deter all those third-trimester Mexican women racing across the hot desert sands to give birth in Texas and "beat" the system. Not only that, but the bill is retroactive, so presumably all current citizens would have to prove that their ancestors had their paperwork in order. Good times for all.

The bill won't ever see the light of day, of course, but it does highlight the burgeoning and rather vicious GOP split over immigration. It's true that claims of intra-Republican infighting have in the past been overblown—the supposed split between libertarian businessmen and raid-your-bedroom social conservatives, for instance, will probably never materialize. But the immigration fight genuinely has the ability to push people out of the party. Either legislation like the Miller-Deal bill above get flaunted (or worse, passed), and Hispanics never vote Republican again, or the president pushes for his preferred amnesty-based immigration approach, and angers his white nationalist base. (There's an even stickier conundrum, too: any immigration reform that offered illegal immigrants the path to citizenship—which is what 61 percent of Americans favor—risks minting millions of new Democratic voters.)

As a somewhat indirect but noteworthy sign of just how strong that "white nationalist" base is, Michael Crowley did a good profile in the New Republic a few weeks back of Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who has defied Karl Rove time and time again in his push for tougher immigration restrictions. Tancredo wouldn't be so defiant if he didn't have a groundswell behind him—according to a 2003 Pew poll, 54 percent of Republicans agree "completely" that immigration needs to be tightened. As with the Democratic stance on Iraq over the past few years, the GOP could end up straddling this issue and making all of its constitutents bitter.