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Hullabaloo


Friday, November 06, 2015

 
Rubio's immigration challenge

by digby


I wrote about Marco Rubio's checkered record on immigration and how it's going to cause him heartburn if he starts to get serious traction for Salon today:
In an election where a billionaire demagogue can vault to first place in the polls by promising to deport millions of immigrants, it’s fair to wonder if the establishment favorite who once proposed a path to citizenship can beat him for the Republican nomination. That may be the biggest challenge facing Marco Rubio today.

Right-wing obsession with undocumented workers from Mexico has been waxing and waning for decades. It is sometimes attached to economic insecurity but more often it seems to be the result of free floating anxiety that isn’t attached to any particular circumstance. During the Bush years, before the crash, it bubbled up in communities around the nation which had little experience with Latinos who were branching out from the traditional migration pattern to places where new work was available. There were a number of stories done around 2005 about the town of Herndon, Virginia, where a militia had grown up to defend the town against illegal immigrants:

Bill explains that he “slid into the Minutemen” because he was disturbed by the way his neighborhood was changing, and the other Minutemen standing with him nod in agreement. “Dormitory-style homes” have popped up on their streets, Bill says, and the residents come and go at strange hours. Their neighbors’ children are intimidated and no longer like to play outside, in part because “we’ve got about 17 cars coming and going from our neighbors’ houses.” Matt, another Minuteman who lives in nearby Manassas, claims that the police have busted prostitution rings operating out of nearby properties…Even on the coldest mornings, more than 50 workers often convene at the 7-11, and Bill judges that sometimes only 10 or 20 get hired. “When,” he asks me, “is it ever a good thing for 40 men to hang out together?” [“Outside In: The Minutemen Are More Mainstream Than You Think,” The New Republic, November, 2005]

(I always thought that was a funny quote coming from a guy who had joined a militia.)

But this was a big story 10 years ago — immigrants were gathering in our small towns and suburbs and changing the culture with their strange language and dirty ways. To people who live in the Southwest or Florida or any big city, it was a bizarre concept. Even if it’s contentious for economic or political reasons, immigrants are part of the fabric of life in those places. But it was a culture shock to a lot of folks who hadn’t dealt with it before. And they didn’t blame the Democrats — they blamed George W. Bush:

The retired social studies teacher said she got involved because houses in her neighborhood had become packed immigrant dormitories. She suspects that most tenants in the rooming houses, including the one next door, are illegal. She deals with roosters crowing and men urinating in the yard, loud parties and empty beer cans dumped outside. She fears it’s driving down the value of her house.

“I’m angry,” said the 60-year-old widow. She said the fight against illegal immigration was deeply personal and broadly political. “George Bush is in it for the Hispanic vote, and we’re on the receiving end,” she said. “That’s not fair. Before, everybody looked out for everybody else; no one locked doors,” she said of her neighborhood. “Now we all have security systems.”

Jeff Talley, 45, an airplane maintenance worker who lives across the street from Bonieskie, also joined the Minuteman chapter. “When you start messing with the value of people’s houses, people get really upset,” he said. As Talley sees it, illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans  whom it would cost companies more to employ and that will have long-term effects on American society.

“There’s a disappearing middle class,” said Talley, a Republican. “George Bush is a huge disappointment to this country. The Republican Party used to be for ordinary people, but no more.”

I bring all this up just to preface what’s led up to the current predicament in the Republican Party and their fraught relationship with Latinos. There was a time when the party thought it had made substantial inroads with that community and were hopeful they would be able to gain the loyalty of enough of them to be able to compete nationally in a world in which whites are no longer a majority. It didn’t work and reading that piece about the Hernden Minutemen you can see how it happened.

The issue continued to vex Republicans throughout the Obama administration as they found themselves caught in the cross-current of changing demographics and a base that was growing more and more hostile to immigrants. GOP politicians who had championed comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship — a mainstream position with both parties — were pressured to abandon their position. Not that it really mattered if they did. Anyone who had once advocated for reform was now seen as a conservative movement heretic, never to be trusted again.

This issue finally boiled over in 2014 when the Republican majority leader of the House, Eric Cantor, unexpectedly lost his seat in a primary to an anti-immigrant Tea Party upstart, David Brat, a novice politician heavily promoted by national conservative talk radio. Stars like Laura Ingraham had been pushing the anti-immigration line for quite some time and homed in on Cantor as a perfect example of a squishy establishment sell-out. Not that Cantor actually was a particularly immigrant-friendly politician. He had tepidly supported legalization of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, and once said that he thought immigrants should be allowed to enlist in the military “in principle,” but voted against allowing them to serve. That was all it took. As far as talk radio was concerned he was a dead man walking.

The talk radio enforcers who brought down Cantor are all eyeing Rubio. Some, like Laura Ingraham and Michelle malkin are irretrievable hostile. Some are saying they'll take him at his word --- for now. But if he even makes the slightest move away from the most hardcore anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy they're ready to pounce.

This is the animating issue of the GOP base in 2016. And it's Rubio's greatest weakness. It should be very interesting to see how this plays itself out.

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