Saturday, December 18, 2010




There’s bad news in the offing for America’s political immigrant bashers, beyond even the fact that the most egregious among those who sought to make hay by blasting newcomers in last fall’s elections all lost, to their consternation.

Maybe that was because the likes of Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell and Nevada’s Sharron Angle and West Virginia’s John Raese just didn’t know the risks of constantly bashing immigrants, illegal or not.

For their benefit, and others’, here is a look at some numbers that should interest them:

Immigrants who have arrived here since the great influx from Latin American and Asia began in 1965 (with many legalized in the 1986 federal amnesty) and their offspring now account for one in ten registered voters nationwide. In California, their portion of the electorate is far larger, slightly over one-fourth of all voters now falling into that category. That rendered almost suicidal last spring’s primary-season illegal immigrant-bashing contest between billionaires Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman as they sought the Republican nomination for governor.

Only the fact that Whitman plunked down 144 million of her own dollars, plus about $40 million donated by others, saved her from the kind of landslide defeat suffered by U.S. Senate hopeful O’Donnell.

This should be a cautionary note for others who pursue the same tack – and for the GOP in general. If California is indeed a solidly “blue” state – as it has been in every major election since 1992 in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was not a candidate – that is primarily because of all the voters who are fairly new immigrants or their children and grandchildren.

Just one factor: Since 1996, more than 2 million Latino immigrants have won citizenship and registered to vote in California. Anyone who doesn’t think 2 million new voters can shift things around just a bit must not be able to add.

Which might mean the Republican Party, where immigrant bashers are concentrated far more heavily than among Democrats, is not “the party of no,” as President Obama has called it, but rather has become a party that simply denies reality.

For the more Republicans lash out at immigrants – legal or illegal, it doesn’t really matter – and blame them for everything from unemployment to crowded jails and lousy car washes, the more they turn off what some in politics now call “the new Americans.” That certainly happened last fall in California, where Whitman fell from a dead heat with Gov.-elect Jerry Brown to a six-point deficit in all public polls within days of the revelation that she fired her illegal immigrant housekeeper immediately upon learning the maid’s status.

Immigrants and their children could relate to the story of a wealthy woman essentially tossing her longtime employee – one she called “almost a family member” – to the curb with a declaration that “From now on, I don’t know you and you don’t know me.”

It was no coincidence that the internal numbers in every survey showed little movement among whites, blacks and Asian-Americans after that incident, while about 20 percent of Latinos switched to Brown from either the Whitman column or the undecideds.

Essentially, a 20 percent movement among an ethnic group that amounts to almost a quarter of the electorate produced slightly more than a five-point shift in the overall numbers.

“It’s as if some politicians think there’s no cost for immigrant bashing,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of the pro-immigrant lobby America’s Voice. “Well, they’re wrong.”

That’s what Whitman learned, to her chagrin. Not even the subsequent tempest over a Brown aide calling her a political “whore” could change that. For once they saw how Whitman treated her employee, the vast majority of Latinos, whether immigrants or not, wanted no part of her. So ended any realistic shot at the governor’s office she might previously have had.

It is no accident that Latinos feel defensive when they hear immigrant bashing, regardless of how many generations their families have been Americans and regardless of whether the rhetoric targets only illegals. The FBI reports that hate crimes against Hispanics in general rose 32 percent between 2003 and 2008 ( the last year for which data are available). At the same time, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League both have documented a correlation between political immigrant bashing and anti-Latino crimes.

So even in the midst of the fall’s Republican tide, it was no coincidence that the most extreme of the immigrant bashers lost. That’s because many Latinos see such rhetoric as an existential threat, giving it more importance in moving their votes than deficits, out-of-control government, health care, supposed threats of “socialism” and the rest of the conservative complaints that resonated so widely in recent months.

E-mail Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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