July 21, 2015; The Hill

The NPQ Newswire won’t spend space on the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump save to say that the support he has received—prior to his attack on John McCain’s war record and support for veterans—reflects a nativist sentiment in the Republican Party that isn’t just opposed to “illegal” immigration, but to all immigration. It shouldn’t be a surprise that in American history, the electoral vehicle for nativism in the 1850s was called the Know Nothing Party.

There is a danger, however, that in the debate over immigration, members of both parties will adopt nativist garb, either out of honest belief or as a matter of political pandering. In The Hill, Luis Ojeda, the statewide coordinator of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, and Deyaneira Garcia, a member of Orange County Immigrant Youth United, write about their concerns over possible nativist motives underlying the decision of California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to hold hearings in response to the murder of Kate Steinle by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco earlier this month.

It isn’t clear from their article exactly what they think Feinstein and Boxer may be calling for that fits a nativist agenda, although presumably they mean Boxer’s opposition to sanctuary cities and Feinstein’s call for San Francisco to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s Priority Enforcement Program, but there actually is a nativist sentiment in the American population, one that may be significant in the Republican Party but probably runs throughout many parts of society and politics. Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Jon Ralston suggests that Jeb Bush’s shift from his longtime previous position in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in favor of something less than citizenship—“legal status”—is a move to pander to the nativist wing of the Republican electorate reflected by the support that Trump and Ted Cruz have garnered.

Before the presidential campaign conjured up the newest version of Donald Trump, nativism appears to have been behind a federal suit filed by 25 states to block President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. These states filed their suit in the federal district court of Brownsville, Texas, where the district court judge, Andrew Hanen, has expressed some hard-to-believe sentiments, including the charge that the Obama administration had been criminally conspiring with Mexican drug cartels.

Political provocateur Ann Coulter’s latest book, Adios America, appears to tap into nativist sentiments, arguing that the U.S. is actively trying to attract people from “primitive cultures that are centuries behind the West in their regard for women and children.” She writes, “It’s as if Ted Bundy designed our immigration policies to ensure that the most misogynist cultures go to the head of line.”

At the Feinstein hearing, Kate Steinle’s father, Jim Steinle, provided very emotional testimony. “It’s unbelievable to see so many innocent Americans that have been killed by undocumented immigrant felons in the recent years,” Steinle said at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “Our family realized the complexity of immigration laws; however, we feel strongly that some legislation should be discussed, enacted or changed to take these undocumented immigrant felons off our streets for good.”

Feinstein and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have proposed legislation to compel so-called “sanctuary cities” like San Francisco, where Steinle was murdered, to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Grassley’s bill would block federal block grants to cities that refused to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, but advocacy groups have opposed the legislation. “Policies that turn local police into immigration enforcers will chill relationships with their immigrant communities, making them less likely to report crimes or come forward as witnesses,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We agree with local law enforcement officials that this type of legislation would undermine state and local law enforcement’s efforts to build and restore community trust.”

This isn’t to say that Feinstein, Boxer, or Grassley are motivated by nativism, but nonprofits should pay attention to what’s happening in our society around immigration in order to deal with it in their own communities.—Rick Cohen