A discussion on immigration arises on this post by Alan Sullivan, of Fresh Bilge. The post itself is a speculation about about Bush’s place in history but the comment thread veers somewhat off topic onto immigration policy. The argument arises when Alan Sullivan takes on this assertion by a commenter named Vince:

I think if Bush had gotten the immigration question right- in spite of all the other misteps and failings- he would be enjoying higher approval ratings today, and probably would have been remembered more fondly by greater segments of the electorate.

Alan Sullivan responds:

I don’t agree about immigration, Vince. Neither party leadership wants to go the nativist route, but most of the public does. This issue is not clear cut ideologically, so I don’t think it will affect how the administration is assessed.

And gets a reaction:

Alan, as Reagan would say, there you go again. Labeling of people who are pro borders-enforcement and support enforcing existing law collectively as “nativists’, that is. Overwhelming numbers of people who support the enforcement of existing immigration laws are for legal immigration, which makes any criticism of “nativism” invalid.

Alan Sullivan again:

Heh, I knew “nativist” would bug you. I’ve seen a lot of immigrants become instant nativists themselves once they get into the US legally. But I stand by my use of this subjective term. I think there is a lot of nastiness just below the surface — attitudes toward Mexicans in particular are really negative.

And Vince responds with a fuller explanation of his position which I think teases out a worthwhile distinction. (And I notice that his position is a lot like mine. )

It’s not the mere use of the nativist term that “bugs” me, it’s the way you apply it that does. You are using it in a way to undercut the debate and delegitimize the concerns of people whose primary objective is the enforcement of existing immigration laws, people who do not want open borders, especially in this day and age. Sure, there are authentic nativists out there, many of whom are immigrants themselves, who support the cause of enforcing existing laws on the books….. What is so confusing about that distinction, and why is it necessary to tar everyone with the nativist brush, when you know that’s not a majority position held by pro-enforcement types?

Authentic Nativists should reconsider their underlying attitudes about allowing for legal immigration, but they happen to be on the right side of this issue, albeit for the wrong reasons. Political bedfellows, not ideological brethren, are they.

Alan comes back with an interesting point without addressing Vince’s distinction.

I think a semi-conscious nativism is the majority position, just as protectionism is the default position on trade.

While it is always possible that the majority on any issue is semi-conscious, I just don’t know if that is the case in the US on the immigration issue. I do know I’ve lived through a similar debate in Australia. There are clearly two groups who want some degree of control on immigration involved – the nativists and those, like me, who oppose Euro style multiculturalism. We even had a nativist party here called One Nation. That’s a bit different than the situation in the US where the pro immigration forces on both the left and the right seem to favor lackadaisical non enforcement and have no stomach to enforce existing laws. My impression from afar has been that Americans got upset with both the President and the Congress because they appeared to be colluding in the creation of ineffective legislation. People cared enough about the issue to use the Internet to out the weak provisions of the proposed law. Anti Mexican prejudice, fear of terrorists coming through a porous border – whatever – I am going to get to experience the situation first hand later this year when I spend some time ‘embedded’ with friends on the border in southern New Mexico.

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