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Republicans On Immigration: The War Within

Published at Real Clear Politics

Egged on by more illegal immigrant protests, the cantankerous debate about immigration policy continues in Washington, as President Bush and legislators of both parties struggle to reach a grand bargain, the mother of all immigration reforms.

A compromise has been difficult to achieve, in part because the Democrats have taken the classic posture of an opposition party — they oppose whatever the Republicans advocate. Meanwhile Democratic allies impugn the latter as nativists, or worse racists. Although this tactic is politically convenient for the Democrats, it also abdicates the leadership on the issue to the Republicans.

Alas, the GOP has not forged a clearly defined initiative to inspire the public, because the party is racked by vehement internal divisions. The Republicans are, indeed, nearing a civil war — not a North-versus-South type in which one is expected to triumph over the other after a scrap, but a Beirut-style multi-faction imbroglio.

If the Democratic whispers — that Republicans are racists who oppose non-white immigration — are demagoguery, neither does the claim of some Republican apologists that the party is “against illegal immigration, but for legal immigration” accurately represent the whole party. There are at least four identifiable factions within the GOP. They are, in the order of permissiveness to immigration:

1. Limousine (Liberal) Republicans

These barely-Republicans want to open the borders. They care little for sovereignty or popular culture, but believe in the triumph of economic efficiency, and thus advocate completely free mobility of both capital and labor. Socially liberal, internationalist in outlook, they are a vestige of the pre-Goldwater party elites. A dying breed, they are marginalized among party activists, but somehow have managed to hang on longer among the elites. For them, amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country is just a start.

2. Dick Morris Republicans (Pragmatists)

Simply put, these party loyalists want to forge a permanent Republican majority at almost any cost. They subscribe to Dick Morris-style “triangulation.” They recognize that the party’s current Southern white male base may not be sufficient to win national elections in the future. Thus, they see the key to that permanent majority in Hispanics, who account for most of the illegal immigrants today.

Led by President Bush and the business-wing of the party, they claim to oppose amnesty, but support it by other names (e.g. “earned citizenship” and “guest worker program”), and are willing to sign on for border security in return for the “compassionate” legalization of illegals. Their rallying cry is “Look at what Pete Wilson did to the GOP in California.”

3. “Dirty Harry” (Law and Order) Republicans

Republicans who make up this group are primarily motivated by the allegiance to the rule of law as the wellspring of all that is good in America. They see the massive illegal immigration creating a parallel shadow society, undermining the rule of law. Many are not opposed to immigration per se. Some are even willing to expand legal immigration while cracking down hard on illegal immigrants and their complicit American employers.

These Republicans are horrified by any amnesty proposal, because it would unfairly reward illicit behavior and discourage abiding the laws of the country. Many legal immigrants-turned-citizens actually subscribe to this view. Their motto is “Remember the 1986 ‘just this once’ amnesty?”

4. “Anglo-Saxon” Culture Warriors

This bloc is often called the “hard right” by the media. They see and battle “multiculturalism” everywhere. Two of their most articulate spokesmen on immigration are Mark Krikorian, himself a scion of Armenian immigrants, and Bill Lind of the Fourth Generation Warfare fame.

Krikorian, no simple-minded nativist, acknowledges that the United States has had periodic highs of foreign-born population. But he believes that the entrenched multiculturalism of our own society today makes it nearly impossible to assimilate newcomers as in the past. His argument is essentially: “We have met the enemy, and he is us” — and until we fix ourselves, we can’t let in anymore, legally or illegally.

Lind, a pioneering figure in the military reform movement, sees the massive Hispanic immigration as a kind of latter-day Völkerwanderung, the Germanic invasions into the Roman Empire. He thinks the migrations will overwhelm and then replace the existing Anglo-Saxon traditions, transforming the country into something else.

For these cultural conservatives, the issue isn’t about race or skin color, but that of language and culture. Not only do they oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants, they also seek to curtail legal immigration, except perhaps from those societies considered more culturally compatible.

These internal fault lines within the GOP stem from core beliefs — gut instincts — of the groups that make up the party, and will not be reconciled easily. Combined with other contentious issues now dividing the party, such as taxes, spending (earmarks) and campaign “reform,” immigration policy threatens to embroil the party in a bitter internecine conflict.

What, then, are the Republicans to do?

The Beirut metaphor offers a lesson — after all, it took the Syrian domination to bring most of the warring Lebanese factions together to demand the restoration of their sovereignty. Perhaps what the GOP needs to unite again is the bitter taste of defeat.

James J. Na, senior fellow in foreign policy at Discovery Institute, co-authors “The Korea Liberator” ( and “Guns and Butter Blog” (