For most of this new century, the Republican party, with only weak opposition from the Democrats, has lost few opportunities to exploit hatred against Latino and other minority immigrants in order to appeal to the Republican base. This began just before the turn of the century when a Republican congress rammed through IIRIRA in the dead of night without debate at the end of September, 1996 and attached it to a veto-proof defense appropriations bill just over a month before the presidential election.
This continued after 9/11, when the Bush administration tried to make immigrants from Muslim countries, including devout Christians (a group of whom I spoke in front of at the time), and other non-Muslims, scapegoats for the terror attacks through the since discredited "Special Registration" program. It moved ahead with the "Real ID" Act, and in December 2005, with a draconian anti-immigrant bill in the Republican-controlled House, which never reached the Senate. In many respects, that bill anticipated some of the harshest features of the controversial state laws in Alabama, Arizona and other states which are now being challenged (and some of the worst features blocked) in various federal courts.
However, until recently, there was also a more tolerant streak within the Republican party, as far as immigration was concerned. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential candidate, joined Ted Kennedy (who had helped bring about the immigration reform of 1965 eliminating overt racial discrimination) in introducing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate (before, half-heartedly, trying to backtrack during that year's presidential campaign).
Even two of the original crop of Republican presidential candidates this year, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, had supported in state college tuition for unauthorized immigrant students, and a third, Newt Gingrich, advocated providing some form of legal status for immigrants who had been in the US for a certain period of time and had strong ties to the US.
But any kind of reason or humanity in dealing with unauthorized immigrants has long since gone out the window of the Republican party. Romney and Perry quickly renounced whatever token tolerance toward unauthorized immigrants they might have shown before. Perry campaigned together with Sheriff Joe, and Romney has embraced Kris Kobach, the two leading symbols of anti-immigrant and anti-minority hate in America. Rick Santorum has gone beyond even these two by suggesting that the diversity lottery should be abolished and "chain immigration", a racist code phrase for family immigration by Latinos, should be restricted.
As for Michele Bachmann'a and Herman Cain's comments on immigration, I will not impose on ID readers by beating dead horses. The reaction of the Democratic opposition and most of the media to the above assaults against not only the rights, but the humanity, of minority immigrants has been muted and equivocal, to say the least. When Perry and Newt originally urged "having a heart" on immigration, many mainstream pundits took that as a sign merely of bad campaign judgment on their part.
Even on liberal channels such as MSNBC, there was little mention of the immigration issue, and there still is quite little, compared to the focus that progressive spokespersons such as Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz and even Al Sharpton, who has given more time to immigration than the others, are spending on other important issues such women's rights.
The tendency was to look at immigration as being in a box by itself, separate from other issues. This may have been because, of course, non-US citizens do not vote. More likely it was because immigration, more than any other issue in America today, deals with race, always the most sensitive of all political issues.
But anti-immigrant hate, which the Republicans have exploited so relentlessly in this year's campaign, cannot be kept in its own box any longer. It has now become a cancer, spreading throughout America's body politic in general. First, it metastasized into the movement to take away birthright US citizenship from the US born children of minority immigrants, using their parents lack of permanent resident status as a pretext (even if the parents have legal temporary visas).
Then, this cancer spread to the laws, which have now been adopted in many Republican states, to restrict voting rights for millions of minority US citizens through discriminatory photo ID requirements and a host of other related measures. Now, the use of hate for political reasons, which began with minority immigrants has spread to America's majority - women. Hate is no longer something only associated with the anti-immigrant movement. It has now gone mainstream in America. From anti-immigrant bigots such as Joe Arpaio and Kris Kobach, the line of hatred runs directly to Rush Limbaugh.
The latest example of this is the Republicans' insane threat to repeal the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which protects all women, both US citizens and immigrants, from violence and abuse. This is taking hate to a new and even more dangerous level, beyond any possible rational political calculation. What is next? Some Republicans want to repeal the 14th Amendment provision granting birthright citizenship. Do they also want to repeal the 19th Amendment, which gives women the right to vote?
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 30 years.