Why Texas Republicans won Hispanic men

Photo by Bob Daemmrich

In 1969, Cesar Chavez and members of the United Farm Workers traveled to the Mexican border to protest the illegal immigration that was flooding the labor market with low-cost workers and reducing many of America’s legal Hispanic workers, most of them citizens, to poverty and desperation.

Joining him on the front lines were prominent Democrats like U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Despite Chavez and the UFW’s efforts, the power of employers eager to cut wages by importing cheap labor proved too much, and the government was content to sit back and watch.

As a result, by the 1970s, greedy owners of office buildings in Los Angeles stopped paying decent wages and benefits to union worker janitors and instead began hiring independent contractors, who then began hiring illegal immigrants. Within a year, wages for African-Americans working in the offices fell sharply, and benefits were eliminated.

Compounding this economic catastrophe heaped upon Hispanics and other minorities in the U.S., an amiable but naïve President Ronald Reagan in 1986 bent to the will of cynical businessmen eager for higher profits via cheap illegal labor, and ushered in the first of the Great Amnesty bills. This legislation offered amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants in return for duplicitous promises that border security would be tightened and employers of illegal immigrants would be vigorously prosecuted. Not surprisingly, this act only lured millions more illegal immigrants to risk their own lives and those of their children while crossing into the U.S. in anticipation of even more amnesty bills. Real enforcement, of course, never materialized.

Fast-forward to November 2014 and now many prominent Democrats — even the president — are eagerly siding with big business and jumping on the Reagan/Bush amnesty bandwagon. In a historic reversal of political agendas, a rump group of Republicans has been left virtually alone to advance the Chavez legacy of fighting for the economic rights of America’s Hispanics and other minorities.

In Texas, reaction to this reversal began to manifest itself in the 2014 midterm elections. According to exit polls, lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick — a fierce opponent of amnesty — won an impressive 53 percent of the Hispanic male vote. Defying amnesty apologists who cynically claimed that Republicans could never woo Hispanics if they failed to cater to the demands of big business, Latinos in Texas are starting to show that that they prefer the Chavez agenda of decency and justice to the amoral platform of cheap labor and economic degradation for America’s poorest citizens.

That Hispanics are increasingly aware of the bankruptcy of the amnesty agenda was also revealed by a 2013 McLaughlin & Associates poll showing that 60 percent of Hispanics support “enforcement first” before any amnesty.  

Yet the “immigration reform” lobby continues to push for a repeat of the ineffective and discredited Reagan/Bush amnesty actions. In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a major “bipartisan” immigration bill, yet again offering amnesty in return for unenforceable promises. This time, the cynical hooks include “stringent” stipulations like requiring illegal immigrants to first pay back taxes, even though this would only apply to those facing prior tax liens.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the House has yet to bite. 

To promote the economic well-being of America’s minorities, true immigration reform should reject the mistakes of the past. Real reform will stop the notorious practice of luring immigrants to risk their lives over false promises of amnesty and benefits, make clear that anyone who enters illegally can never be eligible for legal resident status and, most importantly, make the path of legal immigration more attractive than that of illegal entry. 

Robert Hardaway

Law professor at the University of Denver