Republicans and many Democrats still hold on to a “melting pot” view of American democracy, where immigrants quickly assimilate into the dominant culture and become “Americans.” They are concerned that many Hispanics are not assimilating in this way – that they are establishing separate Spanish-speaking communities where they can continue to live the way they did in their birth nation, while taking advantage of the benefits of democratic free markets.
Democrats can leverage this fear, positioning the Republican Party as those who will only accept Hispanics if they erase any trace of their ethnic heritage. This creates a perverse strategic incentive to keep Spanish speakers separate from English speakers, so they remain a more solid voting block, offering support to the left more than the right.
Republicans can highlight illegal immigration, winning over Americans who fear their “native” culture will be overrun and, to some degree, displaced by invaders from the south. Democrats can leverage the Hispanophobia, and use it to position itself as the party that celebrates the contributions of Hispanics, and treats “illegals” with compassion.
Back once again in the real world, most Americans of all ages value ethnic diversity, but are concerned about separatism. They believe the many Hispanic cultural influences can be integrated into American culture, and become an organic part of it, just as others have in generations past. They need not fall for the wedge tactic of either codifying or banning the Spanish language; they can add elements of it to the composite language we first adopted, and then corrupted, from England.
How should Republicans approach illegal immigration? They know they should avoid exploiting it, even to activate the base. Doing so will stigmatize Hispanics, especially once the examples are taken up by the media. As the CRNC focus groups found, “some raised the Arizona law as an example of something they felt allowed unfair targeting of legal immigrants, and as something that made them feel less positive about the Republican Party. When asked if they thought any Republican policies were making them personally worse off, one (Hispanic) replied, ‘Arizona comes to mind, all the laws that they’ve passed there regarding immigration and being allowed to pull somebody over just based on how they look.’”
It is also important for the Republican Party “to be clear about the difference between legal and illegal immigrants, and to also differentiate illegal immigrants from the children of illegal immigrants and how they would be affected by policies,” says CRNC.
The best approach to immigration may actually be to just fix the system: streamline and simplify the process of legal immigration, and open that process to would-be Americans both inside and outside our borders. Stem the flow of immigrants through Mexico, which is increasingly not a source but a transit byway for those emigrating from further south. Sensible solutions make good political sense, especially when only 3% of young voters named immigration as their top priority issue, and only 11% in the March 2013 CRNC survey named “reforming our nation’s immigration system” as one of their top two or three priorities. That approach would meet the core objectives of the two largest opinion blocks on the issue – the just-over-half of young voters who favor a path to legal status for illegal immigrants, and the just-under-half who focus on enforcement, border security, and deportation.