Pro-immigration senators are now proposing a “border surge.”
In an effort to secure passage of the embattled immigration bill, two Republicans, Bob Corker and John Hoeven, are proposing an amendment that would, according to The New York Times, call for an increase in “the current border patrol force to 40,000 agents from 21,000, as well as for the completion of 700 miles of fence on the nation’s southern border.”
The Times continued, “The additional border agents, the senators said, would cost roughly $25 billion.”
Sen. John McCain, a member of the Gang of Eight that drafted the original legislation, spoke of his support of the amendment to Fox News on Friday, saying, “If there’s anyone who still will argue that the border’s not secure after this, then border security is not their reason for opposing a path to citizenship for the people who are in this country illegally.”
McCain is hinting at something that I’ll say outright: Opposition to a path to citizenship among many Republicans isn’t about border security; it’s about complexions and elections.
Many see a pathway to citizenship as a poison pill for the party. No amount of “surging” can sugarcoat it. (Even if the bill passes in the Senate, its prospects in the House remain dubious, because Republicans there refuse to be wrangled. This week, they voted down the Farm Bill that the House Republicans proposed.)
Neal Boortz, a retired radio talk show host who refers to himself on his website as “Mighty Whitey” and who was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2009 by, of all people, Rush Limbaugh, took to Twitter on Friday shortly after McCain’s Fox appearance, declaring: “Founders never intended that all people vote ... and certainly not people who brazenly broke our laws to get here.”
This one statement outlines the whole of the problem with conservative opposition to comprehensive immigration reform. It harkens to ideas of nativism, racism, misogyny, elitism and inequality from which the country is moving forward, but for which some conservatives still yearn.
Boortz is right that when this country was founded very few people could vote — in most cases that meant white men with property and considerable wealth. The founders were wise, but they were subject to the prevailing wisdoms and possessed of a profound sense of privilege. That is the problem with venerating them as all-knowing. On some things — like the idea that an America born on the principles of freedom would inexorably drift toward universal equality — they were shortsighted.
Furthermore, Boortz’s comment embodies the torturing of historical realities that is now so widespread among the immigration gate-closers.
As Elizabeth F. Cohen, the author of “Semi-Citizenship in Democratic Politics” and an associate professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, argued in The Washington Post in February:
“During the 18th century, there were no illegal immigrants in the United States, but there was a large group of people who posed a far more noxious threat than those who overstayed a visa or crossed a border without an inspection. They were British loyalists — men who had taken up arms against the American revolutionaries and risked their lives to undermine the very foundation of our union.”
Cohen pointed out that although the loyalists fought against the union, many sought citizenship after the war. They were about 20 percent of the population. The Supreme Court would later decide that they were eligible for citizenship.
As Cohen put it: “This and later decisions showed how, over time, the country exercised reason and consent to create citizenship — even allowing the original sin of fighting against the formation of the nation to be forgiven.”
If that “sin” can be forgiven, why is it that modern conservatives find it so hard to imagine forgiving people who illegally crossed a border or who overstayed a visa? There are many differences been yesterday’s loyalists and today’s “illegals,” but an obvious one is, quite literally, only skin deep.
According to the Pew Research Center, “Mexicans account for almost 60 percent of the unauthorized immigrants in the United States,” and many others are Hispanics from other countries.
After years of hostility — both rhetorical and legislative —toward Hispanics that has pushed them away from the Republicans and into the arms of the Democrats, many hard-line conservatives are now playing the only card they have left: opposition to so-called amnesty, at all costs.
It’s a bluster surge, and it won’t easily be undone or forgotten, whether this Senate bill lives or dies.Charles M. Blow is a New York Times columnist.