Second GOP debate takes ideas out of the dustbin of immigration history

Photo by Martin Alfaro/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Martin Alfaro/iStock / Getty Images

The second GOP primary debate on September 16, 2015 aired on CNN not surprisingly featured immigration prominently now that Trump has made the issue a front burner one.  What was shocking was the positively retrograde solutions posed by the GOP field that many of us had long thought our country was past and too good for.  Plus ce change...

Deport them all:  Trump's "solution" to undocumented immigration of rounding up the 11 million and shipping them out with their families is reminiscent of Operation Wetback in 1954 under President Eisenhower when the Border Patrol swept through several western states netting over 130,000 immigrants (along with lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens who looked Mexican) while hundreds of thousands of others fled voluntarily to Mexico in advance of the raids.  Rather than depositing the deportees at the border, they were taken deep into the Mexican interior to discourage their return.

My colleague Corey Robin has already pointed out that Trump's seemingly altruistic move to "keep the families together" as he deports them all is "family values fascism" with roots in the Vichy regime.

Assimilation not integration:  Jindal insisted that immigrants today need to assimilate and "learn English", like he did.  Jindal is very clear that he means assimilation and not acculturation as he rails against "hyphenated Americans", implying that preserving any aspect of your native culture or language makes you less American.  This notion is also not new.  In the early 20th century, the U.S. embarked on a zealous Americanization program across the country that was coercive rather than benevolent.  As Alex Nowrasteh notes, the program did more harm than good:

The Americanization movement was not a benevolent government program that sought to assimilate immigrants into American society so much as it was an avenue for American opponents of immigration to vent their frustrations about immigrants.  Such an atmosphere of hostility could not produce greater assimilation.  The Americanization movement, however, did create an air of government-forced homogeneity similar to the government policies of Russia, Hungary, and Germany that tried to forcibly assimilate ethnic and linguistic minorities with tragic consequences – an experience many immigrants came to America to avoid.  The Americanization movement replaced the tolerant cosmopolitanism (for the most part) that defined America’s experience with immigration up to that point, and represented a low-water mark of American confidence in the assimilationist power of her institutions. 

Still, several other candidates seconded Jindal's call for assimilation and Trump piled on by criticizing Bush and Rubio for speaking Spanish while campaigning.

Guest worker program:  Carson's immigration policy is to first, seal the border.  Then, for those who are undocumented with "pristine records",  they will given a 6 month grace period to pay up on back taxes and then they will be eligible to apply for agricultural jobs as guest workers since no Americans want these jobs (regardless of the skill and training level of the immigrant).  Carson almost gleefully went out of his way to make clear these workers would not ever have the rights and privileges of citizens and never be able to vote. It's as if he read Elizabeth Cohen's book and adopted the concept of semi-citizen.

There is also a historical precedent for that idea.  As a bilateral agreement with Mexico, the U.S. ran the Bracero Program from 1942 to 1964 that brought 4.6 million Mexican men to work as short-term guest workers in agricultural jobs.  The legacy of the program is not a positive one.  In theory the rights of the workers and the U.S. workers who took the jobs as well out of economic desperation were supposed to be protected, their salaries guaranteed to be paid,  of adequate sanitary conditions and free housing provided, meals, as well as free transportation to and fro Mexico.  In practice there was much abuse of the workers in terms of shorting or outright stealing of their wages and benefits as growers enjoyed a pool of cheap labor for many decades.

The historical precedent whose name shall not be spoken--IRCA 1986.  Since the GOP field is apparently so very fond of history, it boggled the mind that at a debate that took place in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and with the Gipper's name invoked every three sentences, none of the candidates wanted to draw on the historical precedent of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 signed into law by their beloved Reagan.  That landmark law, despite its flaws a visionary piece of legilsation at the time,  provided (gasp!) amnesty and created an employer sanctions system we have today, thereby doing enforcement and benefits simultaneously.  But it's the primaries, and the vision thing is too much to ask.