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Right-wing "Civil War" Over Immigration: Free Republic vs. The Wall Street Journal

06/24/2013 11:54 am ET | Updated Aug 24, 2013

The Republicans are in disarray. Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial called "America's Assimilating Hispanics."

Here's the WSJ's main argument:

"As immigration reform moves through Congress, one claim by opponents is that this time immigration is different because the country's latest arrivals aren't assimilating. On the contrary, however, the evidence overwhelmingly shows that today's immigrants are acculturating and moving up the economic ladder like previous generations."

And the WSJ editorial went on to cite a number of data points, many of which were included in a NYT op-ed piece by David Leonhardt published about two months ago. Now this data has migrated onto the right-wing editorial page of the WSJ.

In addition to WSJ editorial board's primary claim, that Hispanic immigrants are in fact assimilating rather than -- as the xenophobic right would have you believe -- refusing to learn English, hating America, and preparing to secede and return their lands to Mexico, the piece also offered a dig at the left, in an attempt to maintain some of the WSJ's conservative credibility:

"It's true that many on the left promote a separate Hispanic identity, but their impact is small compared to the great assimilating maelstrom of American culture and economic life. The stultifying attractions of the welfare state are also a barrier to upward mobility, but that is best addressed with reforms, not by limiting immigration. Despite fears and much bad data, immigrants continue to be the American asset they have always been."

In other words, liberals and welfare are bad, but yay immigrants! Seriously though, as I wrote in this article, integration is important and all of us, immigrants and the native-born, need to work to encourage it, as most of us have long been doing.

Now, don't get me wrong, the overall pro-immigrant tone of the WSJ piece is very welcome. My post on Leonhardt's article emphasized the importance of this depiction of immigrants as integrating ("assimilation" is a trickier word, as it connotes trading away one's ethnic identity for a new, in this case, American one, whereas integration does not require one to give up anything, merely to adopt a second layer of identity and culture on top of one's ancestral heritage). It's even more of a positive to see this depiction, backed by data, in conservative opinion pieces.

Alas, this picture of immigrants to the U.S., as I hinted above, is not shared by all on the right. To see the other side, one need only look at Free Republic, where a link to the aforementioned WSJ editorial produced some interesting comments.

There were some who simply refused to accept the data. I liked this one in particular:

"I knew a Hispanic girl 25 years ago who told me that her dad would get angry whenever anyone in the house spoke Spanish. "You are Americans now, and you must speak English!"

I have the impression though that situation has changed light-years since I knew her."

This person rejects the data in the WSJ article, which also correlated with the experience he had 25 years ago, because of the "impression" he has developed about the matter. Fascinating. But he/she wasn't a rank bigot at least.

This one, on the other hand:

"America is not assimilating "Hispanics", they are assimilating America. All you have to do is look around, they denigrate every aspect of American life, turning neighborhoods into Tijuana as fast as possible. Learn English? hell no! we are supposed to learn to speak Spanish! This is the major problem, they don't want to be Americans (after all we stole Aztlan from them) they just want everything they can suck out of America!"

Most of the comments opposed the editorial's take on immigrants without displaying this kind of blatant bigotry, while a few accepted it but still opposed the WSJ's stance in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. The commenters almost uniformly attacked the WSJ as "liberal" or something similar because of its overall position on immigration.

We're seeing a stark division within the GOP in the Senate, where it looks like about half the Republicans will vote in favor of the immigration reform package, and half will oppose. I believe we'll see it again in the House, where Speaker John Boehner has said he won't bring immigration reform to a vote without a Republican majority, but there are almost certainly a decent chunk (i.e., more than a handful) of Republicans who would vote for the Senate bill.

The Wall Street Journal represents what George W. Bush referred to as his "base," the elites, the "have mores."

But the commenters, not just the bigots by the way, represent a different "base" within the Republican party, one that supports Mitt Romney's call for "self-deportation."

If you thought the divisions among the House Republicans over the farm bill were bad, just wait for the immigration bill to mosey on over from the Senate.

Look, I want comprehensive immigration reform. I believe it's the right thing for our country, and I believe it's a net plus for undocumented immigrants and their families. I want the bill to succeed. But whether or not the bill succeeds, the political debate over the issue is further exposing the chasm between laissez-faire, Wall Street Journal Republicans and the anti-immigrant or even xenophobic segment of the Republican party.

If reform passes, then it's a double victory, because the weaker the Republican party gets, the stronger our country gets. But either way, the civil war within the Republican party is on, and it's only getting worse.