Now That The Amnesty/Immigration Surge Bill Is Dead, What's Next?

I once debated the Cato Institute's Dan Griswold on immigration. He ended his remarks by comparing Ronald Reagan to Pat Buchanan. Reagan, he told us, was ever the optimist with his "Morning in America" campaign and accordingly welcomed immigrants and won in a landslide. Pat Buchanan was a pessimist and accordingly hated immigrants and lost in a landslide.

Griswold's logic aside, it is generally true that those of us who are sounding alarms about immigration don't always put on a cheerful face. This doesn't make us any less right. Jeremiah never preached about "Morning in Jerusalem."

I will admit to being a pessimist when it came to the prospects of immigration control. Until last Thursday, I was certain that the Senate would ignore the American people and pass the Bush/Kennedy Amnesty/Immigration Surge bill. Naturally I was elated at this rare demonstration of democracy.

Oswald Spengler famously wrote that "optimism is cowardice." I won't go that far, but optimism can lead to complacency. While we should relish in our victory, we should keep our eyes out for some troubling developments-- or lack thereof—that could make it pyrrhic.

It cannot be ignored that despite our victory there are still

  • Somewhere between 12 and 20 million illegal aliens in this country who aren't going anywhere

  • Approximately 2,750 illegals coming across the border everyday

  • Over one million legal immigrants coming to this country a year

Until something is done to change this, America will continue to decay. While the vote on Thursday certainly kept the problem from getting much worse, it does not create any positive reform. Unless the groundswell of opposition actually turns into a serious political movement, then it will have been for naught.

Nothing will change if the same politicians remain in office. They may occasionally get scared into not doing something disastrous. But even if a good bill were to get passed, I think it's a safe bet that Bush would veto it. Among all the presidential candidates in both parties, there are only three who have any serious credentials—Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and Ron Paul. Tancredo and Hunter have yet to show up in the polls. Paul has managed to garner a great deal of momentum, but this is legitimately seen more because of the war in Iraq. Chances are, the vast majority of the people who called up their Senators will still end up voting for Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, or even Rudy Giuliani or John Edwards.

Trent Lott and Lindsey Graham both managed to not only vote for the bill, but also insult their conservative constituents by describing them as ignorant, if not racist. While there have been some stirring about getting a primary opponent for Graham, that there is not a more serious attempt to get them all out shows how far the patriotic movement has to go.

In 2006, the only politician who could credit his victory to patriotic immigration reform was Brian Bilbray. Although it is certainly not true that immigration enforcement was a losing issue, J.D. Hayworth, Randy Graf, and John  Jacobs were unable to use immigration restriction to win.

Jim DeMint, who along with Jeff Sessions and David Vitter was the most reliable opponent of this bill, is still a huge backer of guest workers. Vitter has endorsed Giuliani. Until we get a few Tom Tancredos into the Senate, it's hard to imagine an enforcement only bill that cuts legal immigration getting passed.

Although the stakes are far different, the debate on immigration is remarkably similar to the debate on the Confederate flag.

For years, the Chamber of Commerce in alliance with ethnic lobbyists tried to take down the flag in the teeth of overwhelming public opposition. The pro-flag activists successfully elected David Beasley as governor of South Carolina when he promised to keep the flag, and kicked him out when he broke his promise—something the immigration reform movement cannot yet claim. But, after winning battle after battle, the Confederate flag was eventually taken down, in a "compromise" after backroom manipulations.

Despite promises to bolt the GOP and cut off donations, South Carolina is still filled with loyal Republicans. And, sure enough, when John McCain—who in the past said the flag should go—came to South Carolina GOP debate and was asked what should happen, he got a standing ovation when he said he was glad it came down from atop the statehouse but was happy to see it in front.

The RNC is betting that immigration opponents will have similarly short memories. Everyday I get calls at my office from people outraged about President Bush - often calling for his impeachment or even prosecution. I've started to ask them if they voted for Bush in 2004. Most all of them did. But Bush's stance on immigration is nothing new.

The RNC is depending on these voters to swing back when the fear of President Hillary gets instilled into them.

The other danger comes from a positive development—the fact that virtually the entire conservative movement has come out against the Bush/Kennedy bill. Save John McCain, the Wall Street Journal, and a few neocons and libertarians, every single GOP presidential candidate and virtually all major conservative groups and pundits opposed it.

Make no mistake, it is GREAT, WONDERFUL, FABULOUS that the Heritage Foundation, National Review, and Rush Limbaugh have (at least temporarily) joined the immigration patriot side. But they did not create the opposition. Rich Lowry has described the vote as a "techno populist victory" where "bloggers picked apart the bill, talk-radio-show hosts broadcast its flaws, and ordinary people jammed their senators' phone linesblocking what had begun as a kind of legislative coup." This is more or less true, but what is not included is that until recently the "techno populists" at Free Republic were banning anyone who criticized the Bush Amnesty. And Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and for that matter National Review supported everything the president did.

The anti-amnesty backlash was created by groups like the Minutemen, webzines like VDARE.COM, and people like Lou Dobbs. It was effectively channeled by organizations like Numbers USA. What has been remarkably absent from this debate is the conservative Establishment giving any credit to people like Pat Buchanan, Peter Brimelow, and John O'Sullivan who had been sounding the alarm—people who Jonah Goldberg once called "ideologues" of "racial doom-and-gloom", and who are now marginalized by the same conservatives who just discovered immigration reform.

Ramesh Ponnuru and David Frum have had some genuinely good articles on immigration lately. But they have yet to say whether those of us who actually wrote about immigration when Bush's approval ratings were above 35% are still "unpatriotic conservatives" practicing "identity politics for white people."

The immigration issue has created a huge grassroots momentum that everyone recognizes is something different from the conservative movement. Yet it still lacks leadership and direction. This is a real danger. In 1980 the influx of Wallace Democrats and other assorted Middle American Radicals into the GOP elected Reagan in a landslide. Catastrophically, the defection of a few neoconservatives from Democratic ranks was instead credited as the cause of victory. Before long, they successfully infiltrated and quelled whatever true populist radicalism existed in Reaganism and the conservative movement.

Stephen Tonsor famously said of the neoconservatives,

"It is splendid when the town whore gets religion and joins the church. Now and then she makes a good choir director, but when she begins to tell the minister what he ought to say in his Sunday sermons, matters have been carried too far."

The same can be said of the Johnny-Come-Latelys of immigration reform. We should welcome them. But we should also be cautious.

Shortly after 9/11 the ever prescient late Sam Francis wrote that a number of neoconservatives had suddenly begun to realize that their open borders position was untenable with the public. They tried to mollify opposition to mass immigration by

(1) conced[ing] the need for some reform… but avoid[ing] and oppos[ing] any and all comprehensive immigration control measures such as a moratorium or drastic and permanent reductions in numbers of immigrants;

(2) continu[ing] to smear those who have actively supported immigration control as "racists," "extremists," etc…,

(3) postur[ing] as the true or "responsible" advocates of real and effective immigration reform whose efforts are in danger of being hijacked and discredited by the aforementioned "extremists." [Immigration Reform's New 'Palatable Face' CHRONICLES, June, 2002 (PDF, scroll down)]

This has not completely happened yet. But it very well could. Especially on talk radio, much of the opposition to the bill justified itself on the grounds of national security and the rule of law. These are two perfectly good reasons to oppose amnesty--but they still make possible a number of terrible future developments such as increases in legal immigration, an aspect of the Amnesty bill that was barely discussed.

Alas, this has already contaminated the grassroots. I was at an anti-illegal immigration protest in Washington, DC recently. To my horror, the protesters were chanting "Legal yes! Illegal no!" Others had shirts with the slogan, "No to racism! No to extremism! No to amnesty!"

So let's be optimistic about the great victory in the Senate and growing grassroots patriotic immigration reform movement. But let's vigilant in making sure that our success continues—and, above all, is not shanghaied and subverted.

Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.