Republican presidential candidates are foolishly jockeying to see who can be the harshest on undocumented immigrants.
Michelle Bachmann has called for sealing the U.S.-Mexico border with a double wall. Not to be outdone, Herman Cain has called for an electrified fence backed by military personnel armed with live rounds (though he later said the electrified fence was a joke). And Rick Perry wants more drones in the sky.
These positions reveal a cruel disregard for basic human rights and invite a catastrophe. The U.S. government should not be electrocuting or gunning down people who are simply trying to find work or make a better life for their families. This is the same reason that millions of our ancestors came here, though without this threat of violence.
On top of that, border alarmism does not reflect reality.
There has been an 83 percent drop in Mexican migration to the United States since 2006, according to Mexico’s National Statistics Institute. This is corroborated by Border Patrol statistics, which show that apprehensions have decreased 61 percent between 2005 and 2010. This has occurred at the same time that the number of border enforcement agents has doubled.
Other forms of immigrant-bashing have also been on display at the Republican debates. Mitt Romney and several other candidates have savaged Perry for supporting a Texas law that allows undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition rates.
Twelve states have provisions that allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. In reality, the actual number of students that benefit from these laws is miniscule. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year, of which only 5 percent tend to go on to college. This means that in a state like Texas, the actual number of undocumented students enrolling in higher education each year is less than 1 percent of the total.
For his part, Perry has fired back at Romney for employing undocumented landscapers on his property.
While using undocumented workers and students as punching bags may play well to a segment of the Republican Party base, the immigration issue has fallen off the political map for most Americans. According to a September Gallup Poll, 67 percent of respondents identified the poor state of the economy and high unemployment as the main problems facing the country, while only 4 percent saw immigration as their main concern.
And Republicans can count on one thing: The more they scapegoat immigrants from south of the border, the more they will lose Latino support in the next election.
Latino voters already shape the political outcomes in states such as Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois and Texas. In a growing number of other states, Latino voters are also playing a big role.
The efforts by Republican candidates to launch their campaigns off the backs of immigrants will backfire, as they should.
With all the real problems we face in this country, Republican presidential aspirants should stop focusing on false ones.
Justin Akers Chacón is a professor of U.S. History and Chicano Studies in San Diego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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