There’s no shortage of borderline behavior coming from Republicans who are fuming that President Obama is using the power of his office to protect 40 percent of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants from deportation—the same percentage that were helped in similar ways by Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush a quarter-century ago.
Two of the House’s most reliably inflammatory Republicans, retiring Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-MN, and Rep. Steven King, R-IA, were traveling to the Mexican border on Friday to speak out against Obama’s actions that will shield 5 million people from deportation, grant work and study permits, and restructure federal priorities toward border security and fighting crime, not randomly breaking up families.
Whether the GOP’s noise machine will amount to more bark than bite, politically, remains to be seen. But even if the party’s anti-immigrant wing flounders, as many legal experts expect, the vitriol of far too many Republicans in Congress, governor’s mansions and other top state offices show how anti-immigrant discrimination is rampant in GOP circles.
Here’s a sampling of stridently anti-immigrant comments from a dozen leading Republicans in recent days, some of it overtly discriminatory, others cloaked in more political language.
1. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-MN: Before Obama’s announcement Thursday, Bachmann told reporters that the White House would bring in “millions” of “illiterate” immigrants who would end up as voters. She didn't stop there, however, but went on to deride the “social cost” of “millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can’t speak the English language.” When asked by reporters why she described immigrants as “illiterate,” Bachmann replied, “I’m not using a pejorative term against people who are non-American citizens. I’m only repeating what I heard from Hispanic Americans down at the border.” She also said newly protected immigrants would lead to widespread voter fraud, another right-wing fantasy not supported by factual evidence.
2. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX: The Senate demagogue has been leading the escalating GOP charge accusing Obama of acting more like a king than an elected leader. On Wednesday, he said that Obama’s executive action should be met with a refusal to vote on any more of his nominees. On Thursday, he compared the White House plans to an ancient conspiracy to overthrow the Roman Republic. Americasvoice.org, a pro-immigration group, blogged, “according to a tweet this morning, [Cruz] charged Obama with “plotting” and being “openly desirous to destroy the constitution,” while Texas Sen. John Cornyn said he president needs ‘remedial civics 101.’”
3. Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY: This red-stater was throwing similar red meat to Obama-haters, telling TV reporters, “Once again, we have a situation where the president is intentionally misleading the public, misdirecting, saying one thing and doing another, and setting himself up as judge, jury and executioner, which is not what you’d expect in a democracy, more what you’d see in a dictatorship.”
4. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK. Like Bachmann, Coburn is retiring this year. That seems to have freed him to say what he’s really thinking, which is that protecting four million immigrant children and/or their parents from deportation, and helping them to get work or study permits, could lead to a race war. Coburn told USA Today, “The country’s going to go nuts. Because they are going to see it as a move outside of the authority of the president. And it’s going to be a very dangerous situation. You’re going to see—hopefully not—but you could see instances of anarchy.” He later told MSNBC that Obama should be worried about “things going on in Ferguson” and “we shouldn’t be doing anything right now to make that worse.”
5. Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY: The all-but-declared 2016 presidential candidate from the GOP’s libertarian wing told Fox News that Republicans don’t have much power now, but in 2015 should sue to stop Obama’s orders. “We should take him to court,” he later told reporters, and then made a very odd analogy. “Truman was taken to court in Youngstown Steel, and I think we should take him to court.” That refers to President Harry Truman’s failed effort in 1952 to nationalize the company to end a strike. “I think the Supreme Court would strike it down… that takes a while, but that may be the only recourse short of a new president.”
6. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL: Sessions, who is likely to be the next Senate Budget Committee chairman, not only said that funding for president’s plan should be cut, but he wrote an op-ed published Thursday in USA Today predicting that America would be overun by immigrants. Sessions said, “Apparently, America now has its first emperor. And he has issued an imperial order to dissolve America's borders. Millions more will enter and demand the same amnesty benefits as those who came before. The entire moral foundation and consistency of our laws will have been eviscerated. Law enforcement officials have repeatedly warned that the president's new amnesty will unleash a ‘tidal wave’ of illegal immigration. The impact on our jobs, wages, hospitals, schools, police departments and neighborhoods will be crushing.”
7. Rep. Steve King R-IA: King, who is traveling Friday to the Mexican border with Bachmann to fan the anti-Obama and anti-immigrant flames, is a House Republican who is perpetually looking for reasons to begin impeachment proceedings. On Thursday, he postured on CNN that impeaching Obama would be a regrettable but reasonable course, saying, “We have constitutional authority to do a string of things. [Impeachment] would be the very last option, but I would not rule it out.”
8. Rep. Mia Love, R-UT: Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, is the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. Unfortunately, she’s reciting the same script as other right-wingers, such as Sen. Mike Lee, her state’s senior senator. Speaking to reporters in Washington during an orientation visit, she said the president “is behaving more like a dictatorship than an elected official. …acting as if he’s an elite that is capable of making decisions for everyone.”
9. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX: One can only wonder what newcomers like Love are really thinking about their new GOP peers, after this white congressmen delivered a 30-minute tirade on the House floor before Obama’s speech, calling the president a “good monarch” and saying, at one point, “We’ve seen statistics that indicate that less than 10 percent of people who come into this country illegally are actually working.”
10. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-AL: Brooks is one of the House’s most strident anti-immigrant legislators. In 2011 he said he would do “anything short of shooting” undocumented immigrants to force them to leave the U.S. Like other right-wingers raising the rhetorical stakes, he threatened the president not just with impeachment, but jail time. Brooks said, “At some point, you have to evaluate whether the president’s conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States of America. That has a five-year-in-jail penalty associated with it.”
11. Kansas Secretary of State, Republican Kris Kobach: Kobach is not just the chief elections officer in one of America’s most persistently red states, he is a longtime anti-immigrant crusader who has worked nationally to enact punitive laws that have been thrown out by federal courts—such as a requirement that state voter registration forms are not complete unless applicants can present paper birth certificates. The Daily Kos’ Kansas blogger first reported that Kobach this week told a talk-radio audience that Obama’s moves would help Democrats gain “a locked-in vote for socialism” by “replacing American voters with newly legalized aliens.” When one caller said immigration reform forces wanted “the return of Spanish territories,” Kobach said he didn’t trust “the rule of law” to stop that kind of “ethnic cleansing.”
12. Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer: Brewer, who previously was secretary of state and instituted the proof of citizenship requirement before voting in state elections—which was drafted by Kobach and intended to discourage eligible non-white voters—took to Facebook to slam Obama. Needless to say, she ignored the parts of Obama’s initiative that would increase resources for border enforcement. “America won’t be fooled again,” she wrote. “Americans know that any talk of a path to citizenship is simply amnesty by another name. And we’re smart enough to recognize a political ploy when we see it.”
Desperate, Discriminatory, Dangerous
These statements show a spectrum of Republican officials who are willing to use America’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants as pawns for political gain or even targets for permissable discrimination. You can be sure that Jan Brewer knows there is no path to citizenship in Obama’s executive actions, but that doesn’t stop her from saying so. You can be sure that congresspeople like Texas’ Gohmert and Minnesota’s Bachmann believe the nasty stereotypes they are spewing about modern immigrants.
Whether or not this vitriol will amount to any real political barriers stopping the White House from implementing the policies is an open question. Anyone who has seriously looked at immigration actions from prior presidents quickly sees that Obama’s agenda has no shortage of precedents—legally and its scope. But these statements reveal that immigrant-bashing is acceptable in wide-ranging Republican circles. That’s disturbing if not dangerous, because it perpetuates discrimination and hateful beliefs.
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