Now and Then: The Republican Stance on Immigration

1980: George H.W. Bush vs. Ronald Reagan

 

2011: Rick Perry vs. Rick Santorum (and others)

 

Reflections

Security:

Security has gained tremendous prominence within the issue of immigration, to the point that closing off the border is a prerequisite for dealing with social issues related to immigration within the U.S. The very idea of a “security” implies an intense urgency to correct a “failed” border.

Simply by referencing “border security” a candidate is firstly able to prove his or her loyalty to the party stance on immigration, but additionally is able to create a sense of crisis surrounding the issue. Most notably this crisis situation is discussed without reference to the long history of border relations, or even current crime rates: the border becomes a lawless zone that deserves military attention.

Social Justice and Education:

In contrast to 2011, the 1980s debate between George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan might be characterized as “liberal” in comparison to the current party stance. The debate lacks the sense of urgency and is centered more clearly on the economic incentive for allowing immigration. Bush is even capable of talking about immigrants as “honorable and good people”. Furthermore, he makes what is essentially an argument regarding the social justice aspect of immigration rights: that he doesn’t want to live in a society where these people are unequal in terms of being able to access education (1:20).

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s response regarding Texas education programs for undocumented residents is equally defensive, but in a different way: he focuses on it as a state’s right issue, and as an economic measure (3:46). The issue is briefly phrased in terms of equality when Perry says, “If you think these children shouldn’t receive and education…you don’t have a heart”. But this line is immediately followed by, “We need to educate these children because they will become a drag on our society if we don’t.” Again, the economic argument is used but it is with the nuance that we are merely preventing delinquency instead of providing undocumented immigrants with the capacity to become leaders in our society. In short, Perry cannot emphasize that undocumented Latino residents will become doctors, lawyers, etc. from these programs and that they would subsequently benefit society. Rather, undocumented residents are merely prevented from becoming a “burden”.

The Morality of Immigrants

One final thought on the characterization of immigrants is that they have gone from “honorable, decent people” to “Illegals” within the space of thirty years. Even Perry’s description of “children coming into the U.S. by no fault of their own” implies a moral trespass on the part of their parents. This seems to be a stark departure from what Bush almost equates to the pursuit of the American dream on the part of undocumented residents.

 

 

 

 

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