In the years following the catastrophic September 11 attacks, and again after the election of President Barack Obama, there have been times when it was considered acceptable in some circles to openly — and virulently — speak out against immigration reform. Peppered throughout the conversation were racist sound bites and dangerous rhetoric that maligned hardworking immigrants, and misinformed a sizeable portion of the American population.
Fast-forward to 2014, and being hateful just isn’t that cool anymore. The nativist extremist movement, as it is called, is in the midst of a fundamental transformation, as the sheer number of these fiercely anti-immigrant groups plummeted between 2010 and 2011. Most of the surviving groups are part of a single, large coalition, the Federal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Coalition (FIRE). Bad press, organizational disarray and the co-optation of the movement’s concerns by state legislatures passing draconian legislation all forced the collapse of the smaller, more fragmented anti-immigrant groups.
But the falloff in anti-immigrant organizations doesn’t necessarily mean that their dangerous sentiments have completely gone away. Many of these groups found allies in the Tea Party and the Republican Party. And in many ways, their radical views went mainstream. But there is evidence that many of the politicians who once marched proudly with the anti-immigration movement are now dialing down their inflammatory rhetoric.
Late last year, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) rejected a Republican-led push for the DREAM Act and told Newsmax, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” Unlike King’s previous anti-immigrant statements to the press, this sentiment drew ire from both sides of the political aisle — forcing those who may share King’s outdated views to think twice before diving headfirst into the changing tides that are now largely in favor of immigration reform.
As America moves forward, how will the Republican Party deal with the changing views on immigration? Will it evolve, or will it attempt to revive outdated scare tactics? Only time will tell.