In a Nation of Immigrants, Being Anti-Immigration is a Loser

As most of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination try to outdo each other in blasting undocumented immigrants, they should take a break to look at new survey data from Vanderbilt University that show that anti-immigration rhetoric costs Republicans votes among Hispanics, the nation’s fastest growing ethnic minority — including third- and fourth-generation ones.

As Vanderbilt Political Science Professor Efren Perez explains, the data show that, “[W]hen politicians make very aggressive references to illegal immigrants, they are in essence turning off many Latinos, a growing segment of the American electorate…. There are many third and fourth generation Latinos who have very little connection to Latin America anymore. These folks are very integrated into American society. They are business owners and might be more responsive to Republican ideas and principles.”

But Republicans aren’t taking advantage of this fact. President Obama’s approval rating among Latinos is at an all-time low, and for good reason. He is on pace to deport more undocumented immigrants in one term — over 1.5 million — than President Bush did in two. Meanwhile, Republicans are offering more of the same, and it is costing them politically. According to a Latino Decisions poll, 72 percent of Latinos feel that Republicans either don’t care or are hostile toward the Hispanic community.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio has urged his colleagues to try a different strategy. “The Republican Party should not be labeled as the anti-immigration party,” he said recently. “Republicans need to be the pro-legal immigration party.” It’d be a winning move. When George W. Bush made substantial overtures to Hispanics, including an attempted immigration reform, he won 44 percent of the Latino vote and thus reelection. Most notably, he won Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado, all states won by Obama in 2008.

Moreover, state-level anti-immigration laws, such as those in Alabama and Arizona, actually undermine law enforcement. As the Associated Press reported this week, “[L]ocal police may focus on enforcing the state law rather than concentrating illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes.” Maintaining the status quo immigration restrictions ultimately makes criminals harder to distinguish by diverting law enforcement to go after non-violent undocumented workers.

What Americans care about — particularly Latinos whose unemployment levels are higher than average — is a prosperous economy, and the radical enforcement measures endorsed by  many of the Republican candidates will not help. The evidence is already pouring in from around the country: Anti-immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama are wreaking havoc on those states’ economies. All three of those states have seen crops rot as labor shortages created by the new laws have taken effect.

The Guardian reports the case of one Alabama farmer who has lost $100,000 worth of tomatoes after the new law passed. As workers fled Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal turned to using ex-convicts on probation to pick crops. But slave labor won’t cut it. The AP found that the Latino workers were nearly six times as productive as the probationers.

It’s not just labor shortages either. The draconian penalties are scaring off businesses. The chief executive of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, David Bronner, has said that the law drove BBVA Compass out of state, and thus abandon plans to build an $80 million bank tower in Birmingham. Bonner has also said that Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group “is having second thoughts” about building $100 million plant due the new law.

Draconian regulations on businesses and human movement are not conservative. E-Verify and other laws like it won’t revitalize the economy or solve the immigration problem because the problem isn’t caused by a lack of enforcement efforts (see Obama), but by massively restrictive limits on legal immigration. Any successful candidate needs to recognize that prosperous countries are built by free labor markets, not walls keeping people out.