Immigration policy and the Hispanic vote have been a point of contention for Republicans since the beginning of the 21st century. President Bush, to his credit, attempted to pass an immigration policy that would have allowed a guest worker program (and incidentally, broadened the GOP tent), but was stymied by right wing elements in his own party. The strategy was inspired by shifting Congressional demographics and, had Bush succeeded, he might have delivered Republican control of Congress for decades.
Demagogues like Rush Limbaugh who rely on an openly racist base for ratings won the day. The party narrowed and took a sharp turn to the right.
In the 1980s and 90s, John Tanton, an opthamologist with a monochromatic vision for America’s future, organized a web of astroturf networks to build political will for ending immigration, legal or otherwise. The web was well-funded by a handful of right-wing donors such as the family of Richard Scaife, the newspaper mogul who had promulgated stories that Clinton was responsible for the death of Vincent Foster and who helped turn the Heritage Foundation into a Washington institution.
Tanton’s network assisted Rep Tom Tancredo (R-CO) to organize an anti-immigration caucus. In the late 90s, a series of racially derogative memos leaked to the public, produced by the Board of Directors of FAIR (the largest of the Tanton astroturf networks) describing strategies to legitimize a moratorium on all future immigration. The first political consequence of continued immigration noted in the third and most volatile memo was penned by Tanton himself:
1. The political power between the states will change, owing to differential migration six immigrant-receiving states. The heartland will lose more political power (see appended Table I).
Tanton larded the memo with statements regarding the supposed superior sexual and reproductive prowess of people of color, comparing the political impacts of America’s growing Hispanic minority to the end of Apartheid in South Africa (which he appeared to regret). Embarassingly, the memos were quite frank in their discussion of their plans to influence Congress despite a lack of genuine public interest or membership in their web of networks.
Tanton organized the Center for Immigration Studies, an “independent, non-partisan” think tank in order side-step fallout caused by his gaffe. Funded by the same donors as FAIR, CIS produced studies framing immigration as an environmental issue for the purpose of establishing legitimacy. Increased numbers of brown people in America would place new pressure on our natural resources and parks.
Few of us remember Blueprints for an Ideal Legal Immigration Policy, a compilation of documents edited by former Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) and former Governor Richard Lamm (D-CO) and published by CIS in March of 2001. The monograph attempted to link overpopulation caused by immigration to environmental degredationfor the purpose of selling “zero population growth” (i.e., a crackdown on immigration from Latin America) as environmental policy to mainstream environmental organizations. The strategy provoked a civil war within the Sierra Club.
Republican hostility towards Hispanics, and Arizona SB1070 are part of a decades long, coordinated, well-funded attempt to stave off a projected shift of Congressional seats in the coming decades that threaten to favor Democrats. Until recently, population projections for the purpose of redistricting have been a largely Republican enterprise. Netroots activists, unaware of the strategic context of rightwing attacks on immigration and the census, have largely labeled them “looney,” (also helping to prevent racist views from gaining widespread political legitimacy).
One of the more interesting presentations at Netroots Nation 2010 was a panel on redistricting. Bill Burke, the Executive Director of The Foundation for the Future, a think tank dedicated to “achieving a Democratic agenda through redistricting,” was kind enough to loan me his powerpoint presentation for this article.
The Foundation for the Future predicts substantial shifts in population from northern “snow belt” states, to southern “sun belt” states in the next three decades, the same trend noted earlier by Tanton and his allies. As a result, some states will steadily lose Congressional seats while others gain.
Notice that Minnesota, Michele Bachmann’s state, is poised to lose population and hence Congressional seats. Perhaps this helps to make sense of her attempts to delegitimize the census (although one would think she might fare better if her constituents were actually counted).
Now look at respective gains and losses in the slides posted at the bottom of this diary. Iowa, southern Illinois, northern Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and upstate New York, Republican areas, stand to lose seats. While in the past Arizona, Utah, rural Nevada, Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have favored Republicans, they have steadily growing Hispanic populations. With the exception of Cuban exiles in Florida, Hispanics tend to vote Democratic.
This trend continues for the forseeable future:
It is entirely possible that Arizona SB1070 and other attempts to intimidate Hispanics by conflating them with criminal activity are specifically intended to depress Hispanic census response in those states projected for seat gains. The Republicans’ rising xenopobia may actually be a redistricting strategy that has run amok.
In 2000, the Republican attempt to redistribute allotments of Congressional seats was deviously prescient. In 2010 it is a desperate hail Mary pass. Republican obstructionism can be understood in the same manner. Because they chose to narrow their tent during the Bush years they are trapped. Congressional seats will move into the Sun Belt and Hispanic populations will grow. They have already committed themselves to attacking Hispanics. No other strategy is left to them other than cutting off immigration, flooding elections with corporate money, blocking legislation and depressing the votes of people of color. Instead of becoming smarter, they will continue to become louder, brasher, and increasingly violent.
It is essential that Democrats fight back.