Saying “I told you so” is never very polite, but sometimes, especially when trying to explain things to the Republican Party, it’s advisable to say it. For the last year or so, the Republicans and their pet eggheads have been telling each other that they had just better shut up about immigration, immigration reform, and immigration restriction because any further talk about these subjects will only alienate the Hispanic vote, and the party can’t afford to do that. Those who have crafted this argument seem to have a good many compelling reasons to offer in support of it, but when their reasons are examined closely, most of them fall apart. The truth is that those pushing the case against Republican support for immigration reform have never been in favor of controlling immigration anyway, and many of the reasons they offer in the guise of hard-headed political realism are the results of their own delusions about the nature of mass immigration into the United States. Insofar as the Republicans today face a serious political crisis because of their loss of the Hispanic vote, if s because they have studiously ignored the immigration issue for the last 20 years or so or have actually been on the wrong side of it. Supporters of immigration restriction such as myself and Peter Brimelow have been warning the party for years of the very crisis its leaders are now moaning about; the crisis exists because they didn’t listen to those who urged them to face the problem before it became a crisis. Now, if I tell them, “I told you so,” it’s because they still have one last chance for action that will avert the crisis and resolve the immigration problem the country faces.

The new case against immigration reform kicked off in 1996, soon after the Republicans lost the presidential election. The first to concoct the new argument seems to have been Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot, who was soon followed by neoconservative Linda Chavez. Both Gigot and Chavez are long-time boosters of immigration, the former in part because of his adherence to a libertarian ideology that regards national borders as the political equivalent of propeller aircraft, and the latter in part because of her self-professed identity as an Hispanic. Given their ideological and ethnic biases, their argument against immigration control ought to be received with some skepticism, but they are not the only ones to make it, and the argument itself contains demonstrable flaws.

The essence of their argument is that Hispanic voters in the last election swung heavily to Bill Clinton and against the Republicans, a trend that supposedly indicates the emergence of a monolithic Hispanic political bloc in the Democratic pocket that threatens the Republican future.

In California, the Hispanic population now numbers about 30 percent of the state, and in Orange County, long a Republican stronghold, it represents about 25 percent. The Republicans cannot hope to win presidential elections without California—it has gone Republican in every election Republicans have won since 1948—and they cannot hope to win California without Orange County. By the year 2025, the Hispanic part of the state’s population will be 43 percent of the total, and 30 percent of the voting age population will be Hispanic by the year 2000.

California, however, is not the only alarm bell to ring in Republican ears. Florida and Texas also contain many Hispanics, and Clinton carried the former state despite the traditional allegiance of Cuban émigrés to the more anticommunist Republicans. In Arizona, which had voted Republican in every presidential election year since 1948, Hispanics helped Clinton win in 1996 by three percentage points. In Texas, with a Hispanic voting-age population of about 12 percent, Hispanic voting increased by about 60 percent in 1996; in California, where Hispanics are now 15 percent of the voting-age population, the Hispanic part of the vote in 1996 increased by 40 percent. These are worst case scenarios in large states that are electoral mammoths where Hispanics are concentrated, but even in smaller states where Hispanics are fewer, the same trend toward greater Hispanic voting participation and more Hispanic support for the Democrats appeared.

The Hispanic swing to the Democrats was due, according to the New York Times, to several factors, among them “a sharp increase in the number of Hispanic immigrants becoming citizens and a push by the Democrats to get them registered and get them to the polls” (a push that may have involved the deliberate and illegal naturalization of immigrants by the Clinton White House to enhance its Hispanic support), but it also supposedly was due to Hispanic fear of Republican support for immigration restrictions.

One may take this report for what it is worth. The Times story failed to quote any specific nonpartisan “expert” to support its claim that GOP involvement with immigration reform caused the alienation of Hispanic voters, and Proposition 187, which passed overwhelmingly in 1994, was not especially “severe”: it merely cut public benefits to illegal immigrants and did not affect legal immigrants or immigration at all.

Republican foes of immigration control like Gigot and Chavez were quick to seize on these trends as evidence that the GOP had just better forget about immigration altogether. They also cited the declining Hispanic support for California Governor Pete Wilson, who won election in 1990 with 44 percent of the Hispanic vote but took only about 25 percent when he ran on an anti-immigration and pro-Proposition 187 platform in 1994 (and pulled himself from his political grave). One state poll recently showed that the current GOP favorite for succeeding Wilson as governor, state Attorney General Dan Lungren, enjoys the support of only 14 percent of the state’s Hispanics.

Whatever the reality of the Hispanic anti-Republican backlash. Republican perception of it as real has served to strangle any inclinations the national partty might have felt to restrict immigration. In 1997, rabidly pro-immigration Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI) succeeded the mildly pro-restrictionist Senator Alan Simpson as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee, and neither Abraham nor Newt Gingrich nor any other Republican leader in Congress has shown any interest in further constraints on immigration. The Republican and Beltway conservative mantra quickly became that the party should oppose illegal immigration but support the legal variety—a nonsensical position: if the only problem with illegal immigration is its illegality, then why not simply repeal all laws against it so that it would all be legal? Indeed, throughout 1997, congressional Republicans began unraveling the very legislation they had helped craft the year before, restoring welfare benefits to legal immigrants and amnesty provisions for relatives of illegals.

It ought to tell us something about the Republican Party that in all the hysteria generated over the loss of the Hispanic vote, not once did any senior party leader suggest that there were issues at stake in the immigration controversy that the party simply could not abandon without losing its character as a conservative vehicle. Indeed, Linda Chavez faulted Republicans not only for seeking to reduce legal immigration but also for restricting welfare benefits to legal immigrants and being too quick to “fan the nativist flames, blaming immigrants for taking American jobs and increasing crime.” Her objections beg the questions of whether immigrants should receive welfare and whether uncontrolled immigration does take jobs and increase crime (there are substantial studies that show that it does). The naked cynicism of the Republicans in considering only their own immediate political interest and ignoring larger issues of principle and national interest does nothing to reassure either Hispanic or non-Hispanic voters that they can rely on the GOP to remain committed to any firm position.

Nevertheless, the argument that Republican support for immigration control has alienated Hispanics doesn’t really wash. There are several hard-headed reasons, aside from principle, why the party should ignore the argument and get on with curtailing immigration entirely.

In the first place, Hispanic voters have traditionally been more Democratic than Republican, with the exception of Cuban emigres in Florida. From 1972 through 1988, Republican presidential candidates won an average of less than 32 percent of the Hispanic vote, while their Democratic rivals won an average of nearly 66 percent—more than twice the Republican share. It’s true that, in 1996, Clinton won a whopping 72 percent of the Hispanic vote to Bob Dole’s 21 percent, but Clinton’s share was still less than the 76 percent of the Hispanic vote that Jimmy Carter won in 1976. In short, there is no massive swing of Hispanics from Republicans to Democrats; Hispanics have largely always been Democratic, as their congressional representation shows.

In the second place, it remains to be proved that increased Democratic voting by Hispanics in the last election was due to Hispanic support for immigration and fear of Republican opposition to it. There simply was no concerted Republican opposition to immigration. The first action Bob Dole took after securing the GOP nomination in 1996 was to announce his rejection of the party’s restrictionist platform, and his running mate, Jack Kemp, has long supported immigration, legal and illegal. Neither Dole nor Kemp had any record of supporting immigration restriction, and the party as a whole has not been in the forefront of the movement for restriction. Bob Dornan lost his re-election bid in 1996 in part because of the large Hispanic vote in his district (and perhaps because of voter fraud by illegal immigrants) but not because he opposed immigration. Dornan has always taken the line of legal immigration, good; illegal immigration, bad. As for strong restrictionists among Republican congressmen, neither California’s Elton Gallegly nor Texas’s Lamar Smith seemed to have any problem winning reelection, while Texas Governor George W. Bush’s strong support for immigration doesn’t stop two-thirds of the state’s Hispanics from registering Democratic.

It’s probable that Hispanics voted for the Democrats in 1996 because they perceived Republicans as welfare-trimming budget-cutters whose policies would jeopardize government benefits that the growing Hispanic underclass demands. If that was the Hispanic perception of the Republicans, it was a rather more accurate one than the delusion that the party is unequivocally dedicated to cutting back immigration.

Thirdly, it is by no means a valid assumption that all Hispanics are in favor of more immigration. Proposition 187 won the support of some 23 percent of Hispanics, and in 1992 the Latino National Political Survey found that more Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans (75 and 79 percent) favored reducing immigration than did non-Hispanic whites (74 percent). There is no reason why Republicans who oppose immigration cannot effectively appeal to many (perhaps a majority of) Hispanics and win their support. Nor is there any reason to think that even among pro-immigration Hispanics, a candidate’s position on immigration is what determines how the Hispanic voter will cast his ballot. Conservative values involving family issues, crime, and the economy ought to appeal to middle-class Hispanics at least as much as immigration reform alienates them.

Finally, Republicans, even if they lose significant parts of the Hispanic vote permanently, can expect to gain votes by opposing immigration. A Roper poll in 1996 showed that some 83 percent of Americans want immigration reduced. It’s true that immigration has never been a major national campaign issue, but that’s because no Republican nominee has ever sought to make it one. There is absolutely no reason to believe that a Republican presidential nominee running on a platform that calls for severe restriction or outright curtailment of immigration would lose votes, and as the impact of immigration increases throughout the country, there is every reason to believe such an appeal would win major popular support.

The new Republican argument against immigration restriction is therefore of dubious validity, but it nevertheless contains a truth worth pondering. Because Republicans for a generation have contrived to ignore immigration and delude themselves about its cultural and political effects, the Hispanic part of the electorate is increasing rapidly, and the intense left-wing mobilization of Hispanic voters does promise that what the Republicans fear has already happened will indeed happen. That is what I and Peter Brimelow and other supporters of immigration restriction have been trying to tell Republicans for some years, and it’s why the party needs to start paving attention to us instead of to pro-immigration ideologues like Gigot and Chavez. We told you so; you didn’t listen; now you’d better before your own predictions of political disaster start coming true because you lacked the guts and good sense to deal with immigration when it was still possible to do so.