Anti-Immigrant Activists, Teachers' Unions, And Polarization

by Jonathan Chait | April 19, 2011

Prior to the Tea Party, the most influential grassroots movement on the right consisted of Minutemen and other anti-immigration activists. Like the Tea Party, they viewed their way of life as facing an existential threat, and saw themselves as carrying on the tradition of the Founding Fathers. (Unlike the Tea Party, they had little organizational support from wealthy interests.) There main cause was beefing up border security. Now, House Republicans, in their quest to save tens of billions of dollars from the domestic budget, have slashed border security. The response of the anti-immigration groups? They don't care:

You might expect anti-immigration groups to be in an uproar over spending cuts contained in the recent budget deal, like a $226 million cut to Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology or $97 million in cuts to IT modernization programs at Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In fact, the cuts have generated barely a peep from border hawks, who have given the GOP a free pass even after years of campaigning for increased resources.
According to Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs for NumbersUSA, her group is not protesting any of the reductions in spending. Nor will any Republicans be penalized in their annual grades for voting for them.
"For an administration that's decided it's not a priority, it doesn't make sense to throw money at them," Jenks told TPM in an interview before Congress agreed to a final spending deal.

In one sense, obviously, this is completely illogical. House Republicans have attacked the single issue that they care about! But, of course, thinking about the anti-immigration movement as an issue group misses the crux of what it's actually about. These groups have deep ethnic, cultural, and ideological ties to the conservative movement that go beyond any policy agenda. The Republicans are their people.

And the refusal of anti-immigration activists to condemn, or even notice, the GOP's straightforward assault on the heart of their agenda is hardly irrational. Consider Kevin Carey's observation that the House Republicans have adopted the position of the teachers' unions, which is that federal funding for education should come without any measures of accountability. In theory, this would provide an opening for teachers unions to forge an open tactical alliance with the GOP. In reality, teachers unions have deep cultural and ideological ties to the Democratic Party that they shouldn't be expected to break even in the face of direct policy disagreement.

One result of the sorting of the electorate into partisan camps is that many activist or interest groups simply cannot forge opportunistic alliances with different parties anymore. Their alliance with one of the parties is as much a matter of identity as it is the advancement of a particular policy agenda.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/87036/anti-immigrant-activists-teachers-unions-and-polarization