Immigration At CPAC: Grass Roots Restive, But Not Yet Revolting

[See also: CPAC Symptoms, by David Walsh, February 19, 2003]

The Conservative Political Action Conference, sponsored by the American Conservative Union and held annually in Washington D.C., has long been the biggest meeting ground for Movement Conservatives. Recently, it has degenerated into a giant celebration of George Bush and the Republican Party. But at least this year (February 17-19), it allowed a serious debate on immigration policy—unmistakably a hot topic among conservatives and certainly the highlight of the conference.  

Long-time conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly spoke first. She made points that are familiar to VDARE.COM readers. She explained why President Bush's amnesty plan is, well, amnesty. She noted that immigrants do not do the jobs that Americans won't—they just do them for less money. She also noted the Mexican government's outrageous Guide For The Mexican Migrant that told illegals how to sneak across the borders. And she explained how easy it was for terrorists to come across the Mexican border.

One disappointment: her statement that America should encourage legal immigrants searching for the American dream, but not an underclass. Of course, legal immigrants should be lauded for not breaking the law. But most illegal immigrants come here "to search for the American dream" (i.e. jobs) too. And many legal immigrants become part of the underclass. In the end, immigration is not an economic issue.

Neoconservative Tamar Jacoby promptly gave a speech filled with all the clichés about immigrants doing the jobs Americans won't do etc. that Mrs. Schlafly had just dealt with.  

Because most of the attendees at the conference were Bush loyalists, Jacoby probably assumed that, by saying she was there to support the Bush immigration proposal, she would win the audience's approval.

Instead, her comments were greeted by loud boos.  

Miss Jacoby compared our immigration laws to having the speed limit at 20 miles an hour on the freeway: it is so unrealistically strict that one cannot expect it to be enforced.  But she did not say what realistic immigration laws would be. The U.S. already allows more legal immigrants than any country in the world. If she views traffic the way she views immigration, the autobahn has too low a speed limit. 

Roy Beck of Numbers USA—mysteriously chosen by the CPAC organizers although he has repeatedly said he is not a conservative—gave a largely economic case for immigration restriction.

Beck began by stating that our immigration policies should be based upon what is best for American citizens. He then gave a number of reasons why our current policies are not in our interests.  While many immigration enthusiasts often say the only problem with immigration is the welfare state, Beck argued that many Americans who are on welfare would not be if there was no immigration. He noted that illegal immigration is not a victimless crime and likened illegal immigrant workers to "wage thieves" (a comment that has elicited a good deal of libertarian criticism from the blogosphere). [Full text of Beck speech:Immigration Reform: Recognizing Reality or Surrendering Principles]

Beck's solution: enforce sanctions against employers who hire illegals; slowly but steadily increase deportations of illegal aliens.

Stephen Moore from the Club for Growth gave the usual bromides about how immigration is essential for our economy, immigrants do the jobs that Americans won't, George Bush won the election because he did so well among Hispanics etc. etc.

But Moore also suggested four principles to guide immigration policy:

  1. we should welcome immigrants, but oppose welfare for them;
  2. immigrants should assimilate;
  3. we should support legal immigration, but not illegal immigration;
  4. we should oppose the National ID card.

I share Moore's views on the National ID card. But, leaving aside the many non-economic problems that stem from mass immigration, it seems very unlikely that we will get rid of the welfare state anytime soon. Courts have already ruled that all states must give Emergency Room health care and K-12 education to illegal aliens. Those are the two biggest fiscal drains that illegal aliens cause. If we are faced with the choice (as we are now) between having immigration with welfare or no immigration, which would Mr. Moore choose?

A clue: when immigration restrictionists try to stop illegal aliens from getting welfare—for example Proposition 187 and Protect Arizona Now—open borders "conservatives" and libertarians like Moore's co-panelist Miss Jacoby are the first to oppose them.  

It seemed clear to me, from the reaction to the panelists, that the vast majority of Movement Conservatives support at least somewhat more immigration restriction.

And they are not pleased with the president's amnesty proposal.  

That's the good news. The bad news: Bush's views on immigration were made clear before he was elected in 2000. Few were willing actually to oppose him because of them.

The Number One choice for President in 2008 among this year's CPAC respondents—Rudolph Giuliani…who, despite his "tough on crime" stance, allowed New York City to be a sanctuary for illegal aliens.

There is still a definite tendency among many Movement Conservatives to view immigration as a Rule of Law/ National Security issue—rather than a cultural and demographic issue.

In this context, two further observations about CPAC that are worth noting:

  • The growing "Draft Condoleezza" movement. Eighteen percent of the CPAC attendees said Secretary Rice was their top choice for the GOP ticket in 2008.  This was only one percentage point below Rudolph Giuliani. A huge number of attendants were wearing "Condi in 2008" buttons. Since then, I have noted an array of blogs and websites supporting her candidacy.

I find this absolutely baffling.  Besides the fact that Rice has never served in elected office, we have no clue what her political views are. The only time she bothered to state an independent opinion besides echoing the President's Iraq war stance was to support affirmative action before the Grutter and Gratz decisions.  

Rice may be very conservative. But I don't think that all the people sporting the "Condi in 2008" buttons at CPAC knew anything that I didn't know. What they did know is that Condoleezza Rice is black and a female. And, in their dream world, this will mean that they will be free from accusations of racism and sexism from the Left.

This idiotic rainbow Republicanism is a recipe for electoral failure. Besides the fact the choice most likely will alienate their white male base, it is unlikely to gain them any brownie points among blacks or females.

Just ask Pat Buchanan—and whomever it was who persuaded him to pick Ezola Foster as his running mate in 2000.

  • Newt Gingrich's speech. Many suspect the former GOP Speaker will run for president in 2008.

Gingrich made some strong, but not totally agreeable, statements about immigration. He said that both borders needed to be sealed, and all border crossers should be strongly scanned. At the same time, while not endorsing Bush's "guest worker" program, he suggested that access to green cards be made easier. [Speech in RealAudio]

This pro-legal immigration/anti-illegal immigration position seems to be very popular among Movement Conservatives. Of course, it means that they are not the bigots of liberal caricature. But it can easily allow people like Mr. Gingrich to make a few small gestures towards restrictionists—like being less generous about issuing visas to Muslims—while doing nothing to stop the rapid transformation of this country via Third World immigration.

Overall, the news from CPAC was good for immigration reformers.

But there's still work to do.

Marcus Epstein [send him email] is a student at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA.  He also writes frequently for The American Conservative and Lewrockwell.com.  A selection of his articles can be seen here.