Local tea-party groups from Orlando to Phoenix and San Diego to Nashville have rallied to support Arizona’s new immigration law.
Over the past 15 months since the beginning of the tea-party movement, there has been an organized effort to keep the immigration issue off the tea-party agenda. That effort has failed. Score round one a victory for grass-roots democracy.
The effort to keep immigration off the tea-party agenda has not been any kind of conspiracy; in fact, it has been quite open and unapologetic. For example, the national Tea Party Patriots, which is affiliated with Richard Armey’s Washington, D.C.-based Freedom Works organization, has been vocal and systematic in excluding immigration-related concerns from its “Contract from America.” Touted as a grass-roots poll of tea-party members, the poll from its inception has barred any attempt to add immigration concerns to the poll’s menu of issues. Thus, the lack of any reference to border security or immigration enforcement in the final “Contract” comes as no surprise. Fortunately, the real world intervened, and real patriots found their voice.
In April, Arizona lawmakers passed and Gov. Jan Brewer signed a new immigration-enforcement law, S.B. 1070, and the open-borders libertarians who had worked so hard to control the tea-party agenda woke up to a new world.
When you stop to think about it, this reawakening of citizen concern over border security should not have come as a surprise. The lessons of the failed 2004-2007 push for amnesty legislation were clear. From the moment in January 2004 when President Bush launched his amnesty proposals, to the defeat of the Senate amnesty bill in the summer of 2007, the opposition to amnesty came from grass-roots conservatives and ordinary Americans, not from the Republican establishment. In retrospect, it is amazing that the organizers and promoters of citizen protests against big government and beltway boondoggles thought they could exclude this issue from a genuine grass-roots movement.
There have been two distinct groups within the tea-party leadership attempting to keep immigration off the tea-party agenda. One group is amenable to reason and has in fact become accommodated to the issue. Those are individuals who oppose amnesty but believe that the tea-party movement must stick to economic issues of low taxes and limited government if it is to be successful in changing the direction of government. That’s a reasonable viewpoint, and reasonable people can disagree over how important the immigration issue is compared to other issues.
The second group of tea-party leaders who have fought the inclusion of immigration in the tea-party agenda are open-borders libertarians who support amnesty. They are folks found at Freedom Works, the Club for Growth and the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. They have opposed allowing immigration onto the tea-party agenda because they understand very well that grass-roots conservatives and tea-party patriots oppose amnesty by a margin of at least 80-20.
Thus, from the beginning of the tea-party movement, the authentic voices of grass-roots tea-party activists were ruled “out of order” by leaders who wanted to control the agenda. What changed that was not some coup at the top. What changed the agenda was the lightening bolt out of Arizona at the end of April, the enactment of S.B. 1070. Arizona stood up and said, “Basta! Enough!”
Arizona decided it would not wait any longer for the federal government to fulfill its duties. It became obvious that tea-party patriots agree with the citizens of Arizona, and they see the issue as a priority for national security and for fiscal sanity.
Suddenly, the leadership of the tea-party movement discovered that tea-party activists do not really care what those arguments were a year ago for a “limited agenda.” They want secure borders and they want immigration enforcement. This is evident not only in public-opinion polls but in the scores of state and local rallies by local tea-party groups in support of S.B. 1070.
Local tea-party activists from California to Florida and from Idaho to Massachusetts now see the immigration issue the same way 71 percent of Arizona citizens see it – as a matter of national security, public safety and fiscal necessity. They want their legislators to enact Arizona-style laws in their own states, and they join 88 percent of Americans in saying they want more border security.
Self-proclaimed tea-party leaders in Washington, D.C., who want to deny or obstruct this new tea-party consensus do so at their peril.