Will Rising Nativism Doom Immigration Reform?

With the economy floundering, anti-immigration sentiment could surge

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Historically, economic hardship and high unemployment tend to bring out anti-immigration sentiment. This can mean economic protectionism as well as cultural nativism--an attempt to preserve historical ethnic demographics. The U.S. has seen such movements in the anti-Catholic Know Nothings of the 1850s and, perhaps, contemporary groups agitating against Hispanic immigration. In today's rough economy, is nativism again on the rise? With immigration reform possibly the next big Democratic initiative, could anti-immigration anger endanger the legislation before it's even off the ground?

  • Tea Party's Nativism Will Shock Everyone  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder warns, "health care will be child's play compared to the tantrums over the prospect of earned legalization and other measures. The overlap between the Tea Partiers and ethnocentric immigration restrictionists is huge, and even many Republicans worry that the embedded nativism in the movement, whether or not it is also racialized (as a proxy for being against Obama and his ilk) will come to the fore in a way that once again diminishes the fervor of right-leaning independents and energizes Hispanics."
  • GOP Riding Anti-Immigrant Wave  The American Prospect's Gabriel Arana puts it plainly: "America has become a more hostile place for immigrants." Republicans are seeking to champion the shift:
Since Obama's election, the Republican Party has become more anti-immigrant, making the sort of bipartisan movement on immigration reform we saw in 2006 unlikely. Membership in the dubiously named House Immigration Reform Caucus, a nativist coalition whose initiatives have included an outright ban on all immigration -- legal and illegal -- has increased dramatically since the 2006 protests; for years it had membership in the teens, but it now includes 110 members. Republicans who once supported comprehensive immigration reform no longer do. For example, McCain's 2005 plan would have granted undocumented immigrants amnesty, but the senator has since backed down from the measure.
  • This Recession Is Populist, Not Nativist  The Washington Post's Ezra Klein finds poll numbers that show only a slight increase in anti-immigration sentiment. The numbers "don't paint a picture of nativism on an unchecked rise. And perhaps that's to be expected. People blame this recession on Wall Street. Illegal immigrants, love 'em or hate 'em, aren't at the forefront of people's minds."
  • You Want Nativism? Push Immigration Reform  Mother Jones' Kevin Drum promises a Democratic effort to reform immigration would wake the sleeping nativist dragon. "The fact is that political dogs never bark until an issue becomes an active one. Opposition to Social Security privatization was pretty mild until 2005, when George Bush turned it into an active issue. Opposition to healthcare reform was mild until 2009, when Barack Obama turned it into an active issue. Etc."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.