Immigration, particularly illegal immigration, has become the third rail in America politics, yet for the Republican Party, a party dominated by whites, this issue has become a litmus test for the 2016 presidential nomination; Immigrants and their children have already have an impact in presidential elections, which given their preferences makes another Republican presidential win unlikely at least for this year. Furthermore, white fear of the impending demographic change in America is a worrying sign for political and social scientists in the United States. Today’s fear mongers no longer use images of black men raping white women, instead they do it by using images of Mexicans swimming across the Rio Grande, stealing jobs that belongs to them and committing crimes. No nation in history with a white European ethnic majority has ever evolved to become a nonwhite-majority nation. As American demographics change, racial tensions will increased in the near future between the majority white population and minorities, and race relations will be tested, like never before, as the coalition of the ascendant, (minorities) clash with the aging white population in setting the nation’s priorities.
A white Republican stated “Don’t come here and make me speak your language. Don’t fly your Mexican flag, you’re on American soil. You come to our country, you need to learn our language”
Another Republican said, “One of the things the Democrats have done is to create a dependency class of loyal voters. That’s why they want all the illegals Hispanics to be legalized” A third Republican said, “Why should I put, press 1 if I want to speak English, that’s absurd, this is America!” (Edsall, 7) Peter Beinart rhetorically asked why are some many white conservatives are so freaked out by illegal immigrants, the answer to that question was simply they are no longer freaked out by black people (1). Over the history of the United States, Americans have been fearful with any new group of immigrants coming to America, including the Native Americans who are not immigrants. Beinart states that this history have see-saw between fear of illegal immigrants and fear of black people. For example, from 1840 to 1870, Americans were preoccupied over black slavery and the rise of the black population to the white population. Then from 1870 to 1890, the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred all immigrants from China. From 1890 to 1930, their attention turn to the new immigrants of Southern and Eastern Europe (2). These include: Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews, Catholic Spaniards, and Russians.
In this era, hysteria reign supreme among native born whites who saw this massive European immigration as a threat to American culture. This resulted the Republican Party, then the dominant party of the Northeast, passed sweeping new laws to close the border to all countries (2). In this time, “Anti-black racism was still profound, but blacks were a familiar group that constituted a stable share of the population” (1). With mass immigration finally halted by the 1940s white panic subsided. After world war two, a new panic began to emerge as blacks began mobilizing for civil rights and equality (2). This panic went from 1940s to 1990s. In the first half, blacks fought for and attained equal rights. In the second half from 1968 to 1990s, there was a white backlash to the civil rights movement; from crime mostly blame on blacks, to affirmative action, to black men raping white women, to black people on welfare, to black people on cocaine and causing havoc; furthermore, the author states that “from George Wallace in 1968 to Willie Horton ad in 1988, anti-black racism was harnessed in every presidential election. Immigration was mostly ignored during this time” (2). Then in the 1990s, the pendulum swung back again, as white-black racial tension eased, immigration rear its ugly head for the fourth time. In the midst of the civil rights era of the 1960s, a new immigration law was passed by the Democrats, which opened up immigration from the third world. As a result, Mexicans and other Latin Americans were able to immigrate to the United States in record numbers. By the 1990s, some social scientists begin to realize their numbers, and by 2000, Hispanics as a group, surpassed African Americans as the most dominant minority. Today’s fear mongers no longer use images of black men raping white women, instead they do it by using images of Mexicans swimming across the Rio Grande, stealing jobs that belongs to them and committing crimes.
Thomas Edsall states that “Republican prospects of reversing negative trends among minority voters are not good. The party’s nominees have received a steadily declining share of the nonwhite electorate over the past three elections, just as the proportion of nonwhite voters in general elections has grown steadily”(4). The author is correct to point out that President George W. Bush won 32 percent of the minority vote in his reelection bid in 2004, compare to Mitt Romney’s dismal 19 percent. When dividing the minority vote further, Democrats get over 70 percent of the vote, amongst Hispanics, Asians, gays, and African Americans. There are roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the country since1999. Out of this number, millions of children have already been born to them. Since the 13th amendment grants birthright citizenship; these children are US citizens; the oldest of these children will be around 17 years of age. According to the author, Danny Vinik, “Republicans have more deep-seated issues with the country’s changing demographics that only appear when they must confront the realistic possibility of such an outcome” (4). In other words, Republicans would only admit this in private or when they are forced to. Some white supremacists believe that illegal immigrants are forcing them to change their culture, and that whites would soon become a hated minority. This disaffected, angry group are afraid of being steamrolled by immigrants and affirmative action. They wholeheartedly believe a particular way of life is under threat. For example, some would question why they have to dial 1 for English, or why they would have to learn Spanish, and that it is not fair, and if the shoes were on the other foot whites who immigrated to Mexico wouldn’t force the Mexicans to learn English. Others fear, that certain people of color, blacks in particular whose ancestors were brought here in chains, would exact some form of retribution against white people. Furthermore, some believe these immigrants are already taking jobs away from them. According to the author Peter Beinart, “The ethnic composition of the United States is changing profoundly, and the influx of cheap workers is proving an economic boon for Americans who have a graduated college (who now pay less for services) and an economic threat to Americans who have not (who often find themselves competing against immigrant labor).” Immigration whether it is illegal or legal, is affecting only poor uneducated Americans especially in the south. It should come as no surprise when these same folks flock to Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric about deporting immigrants back to their country. Even if the US government deport every illegal immigrant from the country those manufacturing jobs are not coming back. These people are angry as they see jobs being taken away from them to undeserving immigrants. Furthermore, the author states that “Relations between Mexican immigrants and native-born whites in Phoenix today are the equivalent of relations between African-Americans and whites in Boston in 1975” (2).
Roberts Jones states it best, “The condemnation of direct and open expressions of racism had become a social norm; however, it does not mean that race no longer matters or that racial tensions and anxieties have disappeared” (2). Open racism in the past against blacks may be transmuted to indirect/closed racism against illegal Hispanics immigrants in the present (2). This new racism avoids epithets and uses code words, or dog whistles, to get the message across. For example, instead of white Americans saying Spic, a derogatory word for Hispanics, one might say illegal immigrants (meaning Hispanics) are committing crimes and using our welfare system. Neither one is factually accurate, but it is used to rile up white conservatives into a tizzy. This social-desirability-bias effect is clearly evident (5). White Americans are much less willing to speak their minds in a public forum, out of an abundance of caution, but are eager to share them in the privacy of their own homes. As shown in this study, Immigration and the demographic shift as a result of it, are causing white anxiety.
To conclude, given eleven million illegal immigrants in the country, plus millions more children born to them which were given automatic birthright citizenship, debate about immigration would continue to be fierce. Because of this dilemma, it is without a doubt that considerable anxieties will continue among whites about the changing makeup of the country. For a far broader swath of society, the rapid changes in our nation’s racial makeup is threatening too many; Whites might not turn racists overnight, but their voting patterns might change as the coalition of the ascendant (minorities) increase their numbers every single year. How can Republicans target Hispanics about job opportunities while deporting their parents? Therefore, Immigration reform is just the policy manifestation of this deeper issue in which republicans have failed to address (4).
Beinart, Peter; “Fear of Immigrants”; the Daily Beast, Washington DC, 2010
Edsall, Thomas; “The Great White Hope”; the New York Times, New York, NY, 2014
Jones, P. Robert; “Hidden Racial Anxiety in the Age of Waning Racism”; the Atlantic, Washington DC, 2014.
Richeson, Jennifer; “A Threat to Us All: White Fear of a Browner America is Dangerous”; Ebony, New York, NY, 2015.
Vinik, Danny; “Fear of a Non-white Nation”; the New Republic; New York, NY, 2014.