Tag Archives: restrictionist methods

The Tanton memo and restrictionism among US Republicans

A few months ago, I blegged for readers’ views on the relation between immigration and US politics. Here’s what I wrote:

Logically, I can make out four broad positions one can stake on immigration and US politics. I’m curious to hear from readers and co-bloggers about the relative merits of the positions:

  1. Immigration good for Democrats, bad for Republicans regardless of either party’s position on immigration. In other words, even if the Republicans took a pro-immigration stance, more immigration would still hurt them. The electing a new people argument offered by Peter Brimelow of VDARE has this structure. Mark Krikorian of CIS also makes similar arguments. This argument naturally appeals to:
    • Those trying to sell restrictionism to the Republican Party.
    • Those trying to sell pro-immigration policies to the Democratic Party.
  2. Immigration good for Republicans, bad for Democrats regardless of either party’s position on immigration. I don’t know anybody who has taken this position, but I’m adding it for logical completeness. This argument naturally appeals to:
    • Those trying to sell pro-immigration policies to the Republican Party.
    • Those trying to sell restrictionism to the Democratic Party.
  3. Immigration good for whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance: In this view, both parties need to compete to be more pro-immigration, and whichever party manages to be more pro-immigration will benefit more from immigration. This seems to be the view of many open borders advocates and other pro-immigration forces, such as my co-blogger Nathan here and here. This argument naturally appeals to pro-immigration forces trying to simultaneously make inroads into both parties, setting up a “race to open borders” between both parties.
  4. Immigration bad for whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance: In this view, both parties gain from adopting a more restrictionist stance. Restrictionists who are trying to make a broad-based appeal to both parties would find this argument appealing. In this view, the vote of people with restrictionist sympathies matters a lot more than the votes of potential immigrants and their apologists. Thus, whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance will lose a lot more in terms of restrictionist votes, even if they gain a few immigrant votes. Such an argument, if believed, would lead to a “race to closed borders” between both parties. Some restrictionists have made these types of arguments, though they’ve largely focused on (1).

The general consensus in the comments, which saw a fair bit of participation from people who are not Open Borders bloggers and have a somewhat critical/skeptical take on open borders, was in favor of point (1). Namely, immigration is good for Democrats and bad for Republicans, and this holds mostly regardless of the parties’ respective stances on immigration. In other words, if the Republicans adopt a more pro-immigration stance, they will see some gains among immigrants, but still won’t get a majority of the immigrant vote, and the overall increase in immigrant numbers would swamp the slight increase in immigrant share (basically, a small increase in the share within the immigrant vote could be overridden by a greater increase in the immigrant vote share relative to the total vote — this is the electing a new people argument).

Nathan in particular dissented from this view. He suggested that there may be more of a case for (3) in the somewhat longer run, i.e., either party could gain from immigrant votes by marketing itself well. This would of course be ideal from the open borders perspective, as I noted above. In this post, I discuss a memo sent out by John Tanton and the extent to which it sheds light on the discussion above.

The Tanton Memo

The Cafe Con Leche Republicans website’s self-description reads: “We are Republicans who think the GOP should be more welcoming to immigrants.” The site recently published a memo by John Tanton (here’s the PDF of the memo) from 2001. For those unfamiliar with John Tanton, he is an anti-immigration activist who played an important role in helping found leading US restrictionist groups such as CIS, FAIR, and NumbersUSA. Many people on the pro-immigration side view Tanton as a mastermind responsible for much of the success of restrictionism in the United States. I suspect that people have a tendency to overplay Tanton’s role (just as critics of libertarianism overplay the influence of the Koch brothers) but his contribution to the human condition (positive or negative, depending on your perspective) is far more than that of most people. I quote the memo in full below (emphasis mine):

Roy Beck [referencing Roy Beck, CEO of NumbersUSA] and I think we have come up with an idea that can actually move the battle lines on the immigration question in our favor. While we are working on other ideas to move Democrats, this one involves using the recently released census data to show Republican members of Congress, the Administration, and the party’s leadership how massive immigration imperils their political future. The goal is to change Republicans’ perception of immigration so that when they encounter the word “immigrant,” their reaction is “Democrat.”

Here’s what the Census Bureau tells us: There are 28.4 million foreign-born persons living in the U.S. (This was before the Census Bureau recently added another 5 millionto their totals, probably mostly more illegals.) The Center for Immigration Studies breaks the numbers down this way. Of the 28.4 million, 5.5 million are illegals, and 500,000 are here on temporary visas, like the HI-9. Of the 22.4 remaining, 10.6 are already citizens. That leaves approximately 12 million legal non-citizens, about 8 million of whom, having lived here the required five years, could be naturalized. The other 4 million are still in the waiting period. And, of course, we’re adding about 1 million or more to the queue each year.

We know about the heavy tilt of recent immigrants toward the Democratic Party, both from polling booth exit surveys, and from regular surveys like the Harris Poll, enclosed as Item 1. These folks vote at least 2 to 1 for Democrats, and even up to 9 to 1 – see The Boston Globe article (Item 2). Mr. Bush got 35% of the Hispanic vote overall; i.e., Mr. Gore got about 65% – a landslide. I could send many similar articles, but will stop with a U.S. News & World Report (Item 3) confirming the saliency of this view.

Our plan is to hire a lobbyist who will carry the following message to Republicans on Capitol Hill and to business leaders: Continued massive immigration will soon cost you political control of the White House and Congress, given the current, even division of the electorate, and the massive infusion of voters about to be made to the Democratic side. We are about to replay the Democratic hegemony of 1933-53, fueled back then by the massive immigration of 1890-1924.

We have a candidate for the lobbying work in James Edwards, a former staffer for a member of the House Immigration Subcommittee, recently a lobbyist with a trade association, and the co-author of The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform. He has just joined an independent lobbying firm. He’s solidly in our camp, is very well connected in Republican circles, and is willing and able to take on this assignment. We would like to hire him half-time for a year to give this a try. Our budget for this project is $1 00,000. Mr. Edwards would pay his expenses out of his hourly fee of $1 00.00.

May we have your frank opinion of this idea? If you think it plausible, would you be willing to help support it financially?

Implications of the memo

The memo, if legitimate, suggests that Tanton sought funding to promote the position which I label as (1) in my list: immigration good for Democrats, bad for Republicans. The points I make below assume the authenticity of the memo.

  • This memo certainly indicates a definitive strategy on the part of John Tanton and others in restrictionist circles to appeal to Republicans’ political concerns.
  • Tanton wasn’t the first restrictionist to make this sort of argument. Peter Brimelow, founder of VDARE, in which Tanton hasn’t played an important founding or ongoing role, made the electing a new people argument in the pages of National Review back in 1997 (four years before the Tanton memo).
  • Judging by the mostly consistent stance that restrictionist groups have taken in support of this position over the last few years, this strategy seems to have been selected for, though Tanton’s role as an individual in selecting this strategy for all restrictionist groups is questionable.
  • Of course, just because restrictionists chose to focus their resources on the argument doesn’t mean that it is false (unlike what Cafe Con Leche Republicans seems to suggest). In contrast, the reason they selected that argument is possibly because of its element of plausibility and truth. The ideal position from the restrictionist perspective, after all, isn’t (1) but position (4) on my list: Immigration bad for whichever party adopts a more pro-immigration stance. That Tanton and other restrictionists chose to adopt (1) instead of (4) reveals that they were constrained in their narrative by the facts. More in the next point.
  • This and related evidence make it reasonably clear that restrictionists are restrictionists first and foremost, and their political party loyalties, if any, are secondary. Their choice to align with the Republican Party is a strategic choice based on a belief that they can convince the Republican Party more easily about the synergy between restrictionism and the Republican Party, not out of a principled loyalty to the Republican Party. Specific restrictionists may well be Republicans, but others may well feel more at home with the Democratic Party. Even in the memo, Tanton says in the very first para that he will be searching for parallel strategies to woo Democrats. For this reason, Republicans would be well advised, from the perspective of electoral success, to view restrictionists with a good deal of skepticism when restrictionists claim to have Republicans’ best interests at heart. It may so happen that on a particular issue, the restrictionist position coincides with what is electorally favorable to Republicans. But restrictionists have an incentive to exaggerate their case.
  • I don’t think that restrictionists are overall wrong in terms of their very basic numbers (I’m excluding restrictionists such as Ann Coulter for the purpose of this statement). Where I think Republicans may go wrong (from their own electoral success perspective) is in taking restrictionists sufficiently seriously that they don’t consider the possible gains from new, somewhat untested, pro-immigration configurations.

My co-blogger John Lee has argued (here and here) that Republicans may well benefit electorally from smartly chosen pro-migration and pro-migrant strategies, though he is fairly qualified and cautious in selling his case (for instance, John rejects the view that immigrants are likely to become majority Republican, at least in the near future). While I think John makes a fairly good case, a Republican strategist whose job is to provide Republican candidates advice to win elections would surely be advised to account for the possibility of bias in John’ assessment. Insofar as the discussion above suggests that the “immigration good for Democrats, bad for Republicans” meme was deliberately selected and exaggerated by people who are restrictionists first and Republicans second (if at all), similar caution is advised for Republican strategists listening to restrictionists.

Vindictiveness versus indifference in the open borders debate

People on both sides of the open borders debate believe that their opponents often discount, or perhaps give zero weight to, the welfare of certain groups of people:

  • Open borders advocates believe, with some justification, that the citizenist and territorialist perspectives used to justify restrictionism discount the rights and interests of non-citizens (respectively, non-residents) compared to citizens (respectively, residents).
  • Restrictionists believe, again with some justification, that those on the open borders side discount the interests of less fortunate natives who are most hurt by competition from immigrants (see here for more).

Still, there’s something potentially worse than indifference — vindictiveness. Indifference is about placing a zero or small positive weight on the rights, interests, or utility of specific people or groups of people. Vindictiveness is about placing a negative weight on their interests. In other words, it is about deriving positive utility from doing things that hurt or injure those other people.

The vindictiveness analogues of the above claims would be things like:

  • Some open borders advocates believe that a non-negligible minority of restrictionists are motivated by animus or vindictiveness towards current and/or potential immigrants. In most cases, this would not be a “first-principle” animus but rather, would be justified in terms of the immigrant having done something to deserve the animus. For instance, a restrictionist may argue that the bad behavior of certain immigrants (like taking natives’ jobs, going on welfare, or crossing borders illegally) means that they are evil and deserve to be hurt (this and this seem to be interesting blogs/websites that use similar rhetorical styles). Certainly, the claim is not that all restrictionist objections to these behaviors are motivated by animus, but rather, that some people are influenced to take restrictionist positions due to animus and vindictiveness towards immigrants for behavior that they disapprove of.
  • Symmetrically, some restrictionists have argued that open borders advocates are motivated by animus towards low-skilled natives. In one narrative, open borders is a “revenge of the nerds” against the jocks who stole their lunches and bullied them at school. In another narrative, open borders is a way for natives (particularly conservatives) to stick it to low-skilled blacks and low-skilled whites by getting cheaper and more compliant Hispanic labor instead. Another narrative is that people dissatisfied with the status quo (including libertarians, anti-imperialists, anarchists) want to use mass immigration to “heighten the contradictions” in the existing system and destroy it from within to get a blank slate to create a new utopia. (This last claim isn’t necessarily an indication of vindictiveness, but it could be). I believe I’ve encountered variants of these arguments made by Steve Sailer and also by others in EconLog comments, but I can’t locate a comprehensive list of sources. Here is one: Sailer commenting on a Caplan post:

    Dr. Caplan’s views on immigration differ only marginally from those of the editorial boards of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Barack Obama George W. Bush, John McCain, or Ted Kennedy. We should thank him for making explicit the hostility toward the American citizenry that motivates much of today’s conventional wisdom on immigration.

    Here is another:

    Indeed, much of current white conservative support for illegal immigration is a covert way of sticking it to African-Americans and their liberal supporters by importing harder-working Hispanics to drive blacks out of the workforce.

There is a key difference between indifference and vindictiveness. The former leaves a much wider door open for “win-win” keyhole solutions that work out to be Pareto improvements for all sides concerned. Restrictionists who don’t care about non-citizens can find common meeting ground with open borders advocates who are indifferent to the welfare of some subset of natives, by agreeing to a compromise keyhole solution that makes everybody better off. There are of course issues of feasibility and stability, but at least the possibility is there.

If either side is motivated by vindictiveness, however, the situation gets more complicated. Keyhole solutions may still be possible, but they’d be much harder to achieve. Continue reading “Vindictiveness versus indifference in the open borders debate” »

Pure versus applied racialism among restrictionists

Post by Vipul Naik (regular blogger and site founder, launched site and started blogging March 2012). See:

Immigration restrictionists draw upon a diverse collection of arguments against immigration. While some restrictionist arguments stress the number of immigrants, others outline concerns about the characteristics of immigrants (more here). The characteristics-based arguments include IQ deficit, dysfunctional immigrant culture, and skills mismatch. There are other arguments that stress the harms of hetereogeneity per se.

One type of reasoning used in characteristics-based arguments, that has historically been the subject of much controversy, is racialist reasoning. [The topic of race seems to draw strong moral reactions, including accusations of racism and unhelpful stereotypes. I’ll try my best to avoid moralism on the issue in this blog post, though it may not be hard to see where I stand.]

“Racialist” arguments, per my understanding, are arguments that use race as a fundamental unit of analysis in the study of social phenomena, and typically do so in a manner that treats race as something more than a “social construct” but rather as something that has a biological and/or internal cultural component. This is a broad brush definition that may not fit all cases, but it’s a good start. For many people, racialism is the same as racism, while others argue that racism is much narrower than racialism, and it’s possible to be racialist without being racist.

I want to add to this understanding of racialism by distinguishing two types of racialism: pure racialism, where race is treated as a morally salient end in itself, and applied racialism, where race is only used as a proxy, or statistical predictor, of other phenomena. In the context of immigration restrictionism, a pure racialist argument may say, “Immigrants are of the wrong/bad/other race, therefore we should close our borders.” An applied racialist argument may say, “Immigrants are of this race, and we know that this race, statistically, has a lower average IQ or higher crime rate or votes the wrong way or is a drain on the welfare state. Therefore, we should close our borders.”

A small but not insignificant fraction of restrictionist groups and websites employ racialist arguments against immigration. Foremost among these is VDARE, which is focused on making the case against immigration to the US, and uses racialist reasoning, along with many other forms of reasoning, to argue against immigration. The American Renaissance website is focused on racialism and also advocates for immigration restrictions. There are many other websites that use racialist arguments against immigration. Alternative Right is one such website.

In so far as these arguments are applied racialist arguments, they can be addressed more directly by considering both the empirical evidence for the actual harms claimed, as well as keyhole solutions that tackle those harms. Continue reading “Pure versus applied racialism among restrictionists” »

Why do many US restrictionists use “non-Hispanic whites” as the normative comparison group?

While reviewing the page on Hispanic crime and illegal immigration in the United States, I noticed the following paragraph I’d written a while back while preparing the page:

Inclusion of blacks in native groups compared against?: Restrictionists generally compare the crime rate among Hispanics with that among “non-Hispanic whites” (rather than all Americans, which would include blacks). Supporters of Hispanic immigration claim that a better comparison would be against all Americans (including blacks). These two different types of analysis yield quite different conclusions because the crime rate among blacks in the United States is higher than that among all other racial categories (whites, Hispanics, and the numerically much smaller East Asians, South Asians, and other racial minorities).

At the time I wrote this, I didn’t clearly try to understand why so many restrictionists choose to use “non-Hispanic whites” as the normative comparison standard against which to judge Hispanic crime rates (and, by extension, the crime rates of prospective immigrants). [NOTE: If you read the page, you’ll discover that immigrants have lower crime rates than natives, both in total and when compared for specific ethnicities or specific combinations of ethnicity and high school graduation status. Restrictionists, however, prefer to consider the crime rates of Hispanics rather than immigrants, but this is a topic for another day.]

Here are a few random quotes from restrictionists illustrating this.

Tino Sanandaji comments on a blog post here:

Chinese textiles do not commit crime at 261% of the native white rate. [a reference ot Hispanics committing crimes at 261% the native white rate]

Another comment in a blog post on immigration here:

Hows this for a fear inspiring anecdote: The hispanic incarceration rate is 2.9 times the non-hispanic white rate…. oops, that’s a statistic. And yes, it should inspire fear if you have an ounce of rationality in you.

I haven’t been able to locate an explicit explanation from a restrictionist for why this choice was made, so I’ll just include my guesses here. I see two possible explanations for this choice by restrictionists.

Non-Hispanic white normativity as a principled position

One explanation is that the use of non-Hispanic whites as the normative comparison standard is a principled position. Non-Hispanic whites are treated as the “norm” or “normal”. Any individual or group that does as well as the non-Hispanic white norm is considered average. Any individual or group that does better than the non-Hispanic white norm is considered above average. For instance, in the context of height, groups whose average height is greater than that of non-Hispanic whites would be considered “tall” and groups whose average height is lower than that of non-Hispanic whites would be considered “short.”

Critical race theorists use the term “normativity” in conjunction with ideas of privilege and prejudice, but my use here does not connote either privilege or prejudice, though it might on on occasion be linked to these. It could be a form of “centric bias” whereby people believe that their own selves or immediate surroundings are the norm, standard, or prototype. It does not, however, mean that they automatically disparage different things. A person growing up poor may consider low incomes the “norm” but that does not mean disparagement of high incomes — quite the contrary, the person may be more easily impressed by mid-level incomes than somebody who grew up rich. In the same way, non-Hispanic white normativity does not indicate a disparagement of other groups.

Non-Hispanic white normativity as a trade-off

Here’s a more cynical explanation of non-Hispanic white normativity. Restrictionists, when choosing a comparison group to judge immigrants or immigrant ethnic groups against, have to balance two criteria:

  1. The immigrants or immigrant groups should perform clearly worse on the indicator than the comparison groups.
  2. The comparison group should be something that a large number of their readers can identify with.

In an ideal world, immigrant groups would show performance that’s clearly worse than natives on the whole, and hence immigrant groups could be compared directly against natives, or “all Americans” — this would appeal to a maximum number of Americans.

However, there are many cases, such as crime, where immigrants, and immigrant ethnic groups, don’t perform worse than natives on the whole in a clear way. Restrictionists thus need to narrow down the definition of native. At one extreme, the restrictionist could narrow down to “upper middle class college educated whites” or “Ph.D. Ashkenazi Jews” as a comparison group and immigrants/immigrant ethnic groups would perform quite badly in comparison. While this is great for (1), it compromises on (2) — the comparison group is too small and few readers would identify with it. The middle ground of choosing “non-Hispanic whites” or “native non-Hispanic whites” yields a sweet spot that makes immigrant groups look reasonably bad by comparison, and also allows a large number of readers to identify with the comparison group.

The chart featured at the top of this post is a breakdown of the US incarceration rate by race, as of 2006. Authored by the November Coalition and released into the public domain; found on Wikimedia Commons.