President Bush: Anti-Immigrant Views Hurt Us Politically

This week, President George W. Bush spoke in his final press conference about the future of the Republican Party as well as advocating towards change in strategies for politicians in future elections. When asked about perceptions of his party’s inclusiveness, the President responded:
Take, for example, the immigration debate. That’s obviously a highly contentious issue. And the problem with the initial outcome of the debate was some people said, “well, Republicans don’t like immigrants.” Now, that may be fair or unfair, but that’s the image that came out. And if, you know, the image is “we don’t like immigrants,” then there’s probably someone else out there saying, “well, if they don’t like immigrants, they probably don’t like me as well.”1

President Bush’s comments reiterate what many had been saying about the immigration issue, post-November 4.
News analysis by America’s Voice’s shows that in battleground House and Senate races, candidates supporting broader immigration reforms consistently beat out hard-line politicians.

Reforms beat hardliners in 15 of these 17 House races and in all 5 Senate races.2
Hardliners were often perceived to hold anti-immigrant views, particularly those who would cite dubious statistics connecting immigrants to all sorts of social ills. Those who advocated for immigration reform benefited their political campaign as opposed to those that wanted stricter immigration laws. And their effect in local and statewide elections was further augmented by the overall increase in Latino participation among voters in comparison to previous years.
The Latino vote comprised at least 8% of the overall electorate, according to exit polling. This works out to approximately 10.5 million voters, given the expected 130 million votes cast. This figure represents a jump of 3 million voters since 2004, when 7.6 million Latinos cast ballots, and is almost double the Latino turnout of 2000.3
Nonetheless, Latino and immigrant voters were not the only ones affected by the toxic immigration debate. As President Bush explained, many others felt that intolerance for immigrants could easily translate into intolerance for other groups. His words are a reminder to both major parties that intolerance, no matter how well disguised under a different name, will not bode well with the American public, and more specifically, the American electorate.

1. Matt Corley, “Bush: It ‘may be fair’ to say that ‘Republicans don’t like immigrants,’” ThinkProgress, Jan 12th, 2009
2. “Latinos Flex Political Muscle: Mobilized by Immigration Issue, Latinos Break Turnout Records, Tip Elections and Trend Democratic in 2008,” America's Voice, November 05, 2008
3. See Frank Sharry memo to Members of Congress. America’s Voice, “What the 2008 Elections Mean for the Future of Immigration Reform." December 3, 2008

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund