Immigration restrictionists are right when they argue that proposed "comprehensive" reform won't do the GOP much good with Hispanics. But that isn't because, as the restrictionists believe, Latinos are welfare-grubbing, government-loving Democrats who will never vote for the party that denies them free stuff. It's more because, when it comes to immigration, Republicans don't show them the nice side of limited government.
Mitt Romney's shellacking among Hispanics, nearly 75 percent of whom voted for Barack Obama, brought Republicans to the negotiating table on immigration reform, but only grudgingly. Many still believe that Latinos are a hopeless cause.
In the wake of the election, Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute alleged that the source of the "strong bond" between Hispanics and Democrats wasn't immigration policy but Hispanic support for "strong government intervention in the economy" and "progressive taxation," as if Hispanics are born Keynesians. And an incendiary National Review Online editorial noted that Hispanics are "disproportionately low-income and disproportionately likely to receive some form of government support."
But these commentaries betray a lack of perspective. Hispanics are hardly unique in their voting behavior. With the exception of Cubans and Vietnamese, no minority—rich or poor, on or off the dole—has much love for the GOP.
Consider Indian Americans: More than 85 percent voted for Barack Obama, and 65 percent generally vote Democratic. This despite the fact that, like Jews (another anti-Republican minority), Indian Americans are wealthier and less likely to receive government support than the overall population. What's more, Indian Americans should be natural allies of limited-government politicians, given how much government dysfunction they've witnessed back home.
So how do Republicans manage to alienate nearly every minority? By applying limited-government principles very selectively. During the last 50 years the GOP has opposed welfare handouts, racial preferences, and multiculturalism. Yet the Party of Lincoln has looked the other way when the government has oppressed minorities through racial profiling, discriminatory sentencing laws, and, above all, immigration policy.
America's immigration laws are an exercise in social engineering that should offend any sincere believer in limited government. They strictly limit the number of foreigners allowed from any one country, largely to prevent America from being overrun by Hispanics and Asians.
The result: Highly skilled foreigners from India and China have to wait up to two decades to convert their temporary work visas (H1-Bs) to green cards or permanent residency. During this time, they can't change jobs, and their spouses can't work. But they have it good compared to low-skilled Hispanics.
Latin American immigrants can't even get permits to legally enter the U.S. for work. Uncle Sam is extremely tight-fisted with visas for unskilled non-agricultural foreigners. Even if they manage to obtain visas they have no way of applying for green cards because, unlike H1-B workers, the law offers them no avenues to do so. Unless they have close relatives in America, the only way holders of H2-A or H2-B visas can live here permanently is illegally.
Rather than demanding stricter enforcement of these irrational rules, Republicans could have made common cause with the Hispanics and Asians who are victimized by it. Instead of urging the Obama administration to add to its record-breaking deportation numbers, they could have led the charge against the visa raj that shackles immigrants and the businesses that hire them. Instead of pushing border drones and electric fences, they could have made more compassionate immigration laws a civil rights crusade.
Democrats may resort to bribery, handouts, and fear mongering when wooing immigrants to their side. But Republicans could go a long way simply by staying true to their limited-government principles.