In a 1755 essay, Benjamin Franklin worried that newly arrived Germans threatened to become “a colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them.”
Even back in the day, says Stanford University professor Gary M. Segura, who was at LSU last week, talking anti-immigrant was good for rallying the base.
Being an academic, Segura quickly ticked through history, recounting instances of American politicians going all-native: from “No Irish Need Apply” to the Wagner Act in 1935, which exempted agriculture workers and domestic help from unionization, to Alabama’s Citizen Protection Act of 2011, which has police stopping people they think are illegal.
For Louisiana politicians, immigration rhetoric differs only in degree.
Republican Garret Graves, the odds-on favorite to become the next congressman in the Baton Rouge-based 6th Congressional District, wrote in an email last week: “We oppose amnesty. We support deportation. Borders should be secure.”
He refused to answer questions about his immigration stances, but on his campaign website, Graves stated that he would “prohibit illegal aliens from receiving taxpayer-funded benefits” and “ensure foreign workers pay taxes.”
He wrote of estimates that as many as 20 million people had entered the country illegally, which is more than the combined populations of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, numbers of a magnitude that have caused social disorder in other countries.
Graves’ opponent, former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, pretty much agrees: Secure the borders. But he would also set up a path to citizenship for some workers and children while chucking the rest back.
Edwards adds, “All this hot talk about immigration — send them back, get rid of them, do whatever — many of the people who pick these hot button issues are not mindful of or just don’t care that there are other people who will be affected by that abrupt and unprecedented action.”
Edwards’ thoughts are supported by, of all folks, Jim Patterson, vice president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the organization representing business owners and executives that was a stone in Edwards’ shoe during all four of his terms as governor.
“Our nation’s current worker visa program is complicated, inflexible and costly for employers,” Patterson said in a prepared statement, adding that federal immigration policy would need adjustments to help Louisiana acquire a workforce trained in science, technology and engineering. He asked Louisiana’s congressional delegation to make an immigration fix a priority.
Even outgoing U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, R-Swartz, said it was impractical and economically harmful to find and deport 11 million people, and that is the more accepted estimate of the illegal population. “Our businesses and farms need labor and there must be a way for people who learn English, pay fines and taxes and have no criminal records to pay for the services they receive while contributing to our economy,” he said.
Over the past decade, minorities have accounted for 85 percent of the nation’s population growth. The math already shows that immigrant populations in Florida, Georgia, Texas, even North Carolina, when added to minorities already living there and the young professionals also moving in, are demographics fast becoming majorities in traditionally conservative states.
But base-building in the Deep South still means appealing to the nativist leanings, a position that alienates the fastest growing segment of voters.
Why should the traditional-family-values, church-going Hispanic community turn to Democrats rather than Republicans?
It’s the anti-immigration rhetoric, said Professor Segura, a Louisiana native with parents born in Mexico and a co-founder of Latino Decisions, a well-respected polling firm that focuses on measuring Hispanic opinions. Voters don’t warm to politicians who routinely characterize them as drug mules.
The moral to his story about Franklin is that about a decade later, when Germans were voting, the founding father was defeated in an election. Similarly all this base-building may come back to haunt the GOP in 2016, Segura said.
While the majority population was watching “The Big Bang Theory” — all four networks went with their regular schedule — Latinos were watching President Barack Obama’s speech on immigration. Even at the Latin Grammys awards show, which was interrupted by Univision, the Spanish language television network, singers and performers gathered around televisions to hear the president announce he would suspend deportation for about 5 million illegals.
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/