Republicans admit racism is contributing to immigration reform gridlock

Even some Republicans are willing to say that racial panic drives much of reform's opposition

Published January 30, 2014 3:05PM (EST)

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa                            (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

For years, if not decades, activists on both sides of the aisle have been trying to comprehensively reform America's dysfunctional immigration system.

And considering this goal brings together not only immigrants, the children of immigrants, most economists, many Democrats and, crucially, the business wing of the Republican Party, one might think it would've been achieved by now.

But for just as long as reformers have been trying to enact change, there's been a stumbling block, one that's all too familiar in American politics: racism.

Liberals, Democrats and other pro-reform actors on the political left have long been willing to call out the racial panic that informs much of the rank-and-file activist right's opposition, but now some Republicans are doing it, too.

Speaking with BuzzFeed's John Stanton, one Southern Republican lawmaker — who asked to remain anonymous — said of reform's opposition: "Part of it, I think — and I hate to say this, because these are my people — but I hate to say it, but it’s racial."

“If you go to town halls people say things like, ‘These people have different cultural customs than we do.’ And that’s code for race," the Republican continued.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime supporter of reform, also told BuzzFeed that he believes racial anxieties are part of anti-reformers' motivation. Graham didn't explicitly use the word "race," but his chosen analogy makes the implication very clear.

"There will always be people [who have] different reasons for opposing the change," he said. "We have a history in this country of demagoguery when it comes [to immigration]. You know, ‘Irish Need Not Apply.’ There’s nothing new going on today that’s gone on before. This isn’t the first time that there’s been some ugliness around the issue of immigration."

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Amnesty Buzzfeed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Immigration John Stanton Lindsey Graham Tea Party