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Column: Immigrant-baiting likely a losing cause for GOP


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INDIANAPOLIS – When Indiana Gov. Mike Pence fired off a letter to President Barack Obama complaining about unaccompanied children being placed with sponsors in Indiana, he opened himself to considerable criticism.

Most of the fire focused on Pence’s supposed hypocrisy. The Indiana governor said he felt “deep compassion” for these children, all of whom are fleeing poverty, repression and violence.

That deep compassion, though, apparently doesn’t run so deep that he wants to see the troubled kids receive shelter, safety and sustenance in Hoosier sponsors’ homes.

Other critics devoted their attention to the frequent public proclamations of religious faith made by Pence, who is pondering a 2016 run for the Republican presidential nomination. Where in Scripture, those critics asked, is it written that a Christian should deny needy children food and care?

These criticisms are fair, if a bit heavy-handed.

Most people, though, missed an important point: The antagonisms Pence and other conservatives whip up over immigration also are incredibly short-sighted and self-destructive.

Put simply, every time Pence and conservatives shake their fists at undocumented immigrants, they are alienating people who likely otherwise would vote for them.

Perhaps it was a coincidence that I talked with Carlos May and Danielle Dean on the same day that Pence sent his letter to the president.

May and Dean are brother and sister and are of Hispanic/Latino descent. They also are, respectively, the senior executive policy adviser to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and the new executive director of the Indiana Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs.

May was a Republican candidate for Congress. The issue of immigration, he says, “hits close to home” for him.

For that reason, his party’s determination to antagonize the country’s fastest-growing voting bloc strikes him as foolhardy.

May said, absent the rejections and condemnations from Republicans, most Hispanic and Latino citizens would support the GOP. The values that many Latin Americans bring with them to this country — commitments to family, to faith, to saving and to hard work — line up perfectly with Republican and conservative principles.

He said the opposition to undocumented immigrants is based on misperceptions. The people who are the most angry about immigration see the new arrivals in this country as folks who consume U.S. services — at taxpayer expense — and contribute nothing themselves.

The opposite is true, May said. He cites a couple of Texas studies. The first one showed that undocumented immigrants consume $700 million in social services in Texas, which is where the discussion generally ends. A second study of the same area showed that those undocumented aliens also paid $1.5 billion in taxes.

Because, as non-citizens, undocumented immigrants can’t qualify for tax refunds, the extra $800 million meant they were helping to subsidize, among other things, the tax cuts Republicans and conservatives love.

Nor are the contributions confined to the Southwest.

May notes that, in central Indiana alone, residents of Hispanic and Latino descent pay more than $400 million annually in taxes — and that number is climbing rapidly.

I ask both May and Dean why, given all this, so many people get so enraged about immigration?

Brother and sister give me the same answer.

Fear of the unknown.

They note that each wave of immigration in American history brought with it reactions of hostility and repression. The Irish, the southern and eastern Europeans, the Chinese and the Japanese all had to kick down barriers of animosity and oppression when they arrived in this country.

In some ways, they say, the old pattern is playing out again — with the added twist that, for the first time in U.S. history, Caucasian Americans now face the prospect of not being a majority in this country.

May emphasizes that he is a devoted Republican. That is the reason he sees his party’s unreasoning opposition to immigration as so foolish.

Too many members of the GOP, he says, are fighting with people who want to be their friends — people who could help them win elections, keep taxes low and enable conservative principles to take root.

Criticizing children (and their parents) because they take the American Dream seriously enough to risk life and safety to come to this country now is an indulgence for conservatives.

And a costly one at that.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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