Nobody can testify better than Rep. Mike Pence, a nationally renowned conservative, how dangerous this issue is for a Republican. In 2006, Pence brought a cascade of abuse on him for proposing an immigration compromise. He held his ground, recalling his Irish immigrant grandfather. But last week, he rejected the new Senate compromise as "amnesty" though it resembles his own plan.
Many Republicans reach for an anti-immigration lifeline because of the party's plight. Burdened with an unpopular president and an unpopular war, the GOP cannot claim to be the party of limited government and controlled spending. But immigrant-bashing divides rather than unites Republicans as the South Carolina and Georgia conventions showed. In a recent closed-door meeting of the House's conservative Republican Study Committee, Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina raised the danger of resembling South Africa's National Party advocating apartheid.
Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, while probing for the compromise's weak spots in Senate debate Tuesday, warned of "cultural" change resulting from a flood of low-income immigrants. That recalls the 1911 report of the U.S. Immigration Commission (headed by an old-fashioned Republican conservative, Sen. William P. Dillingham of Vermont) asserting that the "proportion of the more serious crimes of homicide, blackmail and robbery . . . is greater among the foreign born," who also refuse to learn the English language.
In reading part of Dillingham's report into the Senate record, Graham declared that these immigrants who were "ruining America" fathered the "greatest generation." That immigrant wave included my grandfather, a Russian Imperial army veteran working on the John Deere tractor assembly line in Moline, Ill., as an unskilled, undocumented alien who could not speak English. Refuting Dillingham, he was an American patriot proud of a son who fought with the U.S. infantry through Africa and Italy in World War II.