In the nineteenth century, Americans had another term for what we now call "the political class"—the Slave Power.
Americans gradually came to believe that there was a pro-slavery conspiracy to expand the range of slavery, erode the foundations of republican government, and undermine the dignity of free labor. This pro-slavery elite supposedly controlled both major political parties and used its influence to block all attempts at reform.
As the old saying goes, "history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes." The Cheap Labor Lobby isn't a perfect reincarnation of the Slave Power—but it uses the same arguments, pulls in the same general direction, and is driven by same fundamental appetites.
This elite has an apparently insatiable appetite for cheap labor and an uncontrollable urge to dismantle the American nation. It is engaged in what is now all but open warfare against American democracy, which it dresses up in faux humanitarian rhetoric and self-serving religious and economic arguments.
The modern version of the Slave Power might not desire to resurrect slavery—but it has no real objection to indentured servitude, which it calls a "temporary guest worker program". And its members and supporters have shown the same contempt for the democratic process as their historical predecessors.
Last time around, the Slave Power became so aggressive, reckless, and uncompromising with its cheap labor agenda that it inspired a backlash that toppled the two-party system and sowed the seeds of its own eventual destruction.
Three months ago, Americans who support patriotic immigration reform looked ahead to 2011 and saw themselves on the cusp of huge new victories at the state level—maybe even a decisive blow that would finally turn the tide against the pro-amnesty opposition.
We patted ourselves on the back for a job well done in 2010. Then we told our supporters to gear up for an "offensive drive" through the state capitols in 2011.
In hindsight, the "yes, we can" spirit that infected some immigration patriots back then now sounds like we were living in a parallel universe.
Change We Can Believe In
Several major factors converged in 2010 to give immigration patriots hope:
Arizona was successful in driving out hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens. Immigration patriots hoped this "attrition through enforcement" model would be extended to other states.
In particular, the GOP won smashing victories at the state level over some veteran Democratic obstructionists, which seemed to clear the path toward patriotic immigration reform across nearly half the Union. And it raised the hope that Republican campaign consultants, notoriously thick-skulled, might actually have gotten the message.
Even John McCain and Lindsey Graham voted against the DREAM Act. This reinforced the impression that patriots had triumphed in the Republican Party and that immigration had finally been transformed into a partisan issue a.k.a. entered public debate.
But turned out that the Establishment was far more powerful and enduring than the optimists had imagined.
The states are now almost halfway through the 2011 legislative session. The last state legislatures in session are set to wrap up business in July.
But as things stand today, the Republican Party hasn't delivered a single major legislative accomplishment for restrictionists at the state level that has been signed into law by a Republican governor. This hasn't stopped Democrats and Republican-controlled committees in several states from killing dozens restrictionist proposals though.
It is premature to rush to judgment. Some big victories remain possible. But what we are seeing now at the state level does not inspire confidence in Republican lawmakers as a group—at the state level and, needless to say, in Washington D.C.
There are lots of patriotic immigration reform bills that have cleared one state legislative chamber. Some bills have passed both state legislative chambers and have to go through the reconciliation process. There are other bills which are stuck in committee whose ultimate fate remains uncertain. Many others have already been shot down in the state legislatures.
Kentucky, Virginia, Mississippi
I have counted Kentucky, Virginia, and Mississippi as a Southern trio because these states all share certain qualities in common that have become more obvious as other states have followed them into the immigration wars.
Kentucky, Virginia, and Mississippi were all unusually expeditious in acting on immigration reform. The Kentucky Senate passed an Arizona-style immigration law within days. The Virginia House passed a big package of 12 restrictionist immigration laws. The Mississippi Senate passed an Arizona-style immigration law.
I have come to believe that two major factors explain the lack of foot-dragging here: in all three states, state elections are being held in 2011—and Democrats control at least one state legislative chamber or a gubernatorial office, which Republicans hope to seize.
In Virginia, the Republican controlled Virginia House quickly passed a big restrictionist immigration package because they knew that the Democrats who control the Virginia Senate would kill all the bills.
And the Virginia Senate did kill 10 out of 12 bills—but that doesn't bother Republicans, because they only wanted ammunition to use against their Democratic opposition in the November election.
In Kentucky, Senate President David Williams quickly moved an Arizona-style immigration law through the Kentucky Senate within a matter of days. He also knew the Democrat-controlled Kentucky House would kill the Senate bill.
Undoubtedly, Sen. David Williams will wave the bloody shirt when he runs for Governor of Kentucky in November. Now he has a winning campaign issue which he can milk to get himself elected to a higher office. I suspect that is what he really wanted all along.
Unlike Kentucky and Virginia, the Mississippi House and Senate both approved an Arizona-style immigration law. That's strange when you consider that Democrats control both chambers of the Mississippi state legislature. Since when have Democrats ever supported patriotic policies on immigration?
But there is a simple explanation: Mississippi Democrats are desperately trying to avoid the fate of their Democratic counterparts in neighboring states like Alabama and Georgia—where Republicans used immigration to win historic victories over Democrats in the 2010 midterms.
Recently, the Mississippi version of Arizona-style immigration reform died a quiet death at the hands of a legislative deadline. The reconciliation committee which was responsible for producing a final version of the bill never even bothered to hold hearings on the subject.
Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma
Within the South, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma form another distinct bloc of states, noticeably different from the Southern trio of Kentucky, Virginia, and Mississippi.
States in this second bloc have Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures. They are mostly states that are going through a long-term transition from Democratic to Republican rule, basically as whites tip to the GOP. There are fewer moderates and more social conservatives in these states. The Democratic Party is also more competitive here, because of the large minority populations.
The key to understanding these states (with the exception of Oklahoma) is that the Republican Party is trying to establish its credibility here. Southern voters have an old habit of ticket splitting: voting for Democrats at the state level and Republicans for national offices like president. Republicans are trying to break this to pass their other agenda items.
In Alabama, a big restrictionist immigration reform package recently passed the Alabama House.Republicans promised in their "Handshake With Alabama" to deliver an Arizona-style immigration law and other reforms. [Alabama lawmakers approve immigration crackdown, By Verna Gates, April 5, 2011]
The Georgia House and Senate have both approved an Arizona-style immigration law that is included in a larger restrictionist package. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of several other good bills that were introduced but have since died through lack of attention from the legislature.
In Georgia, the business community was successful in weakening the bill which passed the Georgia Senate. A committee will have to hammer out a final version in the reconciliation process before it heads to Gov. Deal for his signature.
The South Carolina Senate wasn't anywhere close to expeditious, but it finally passed an Arizona-style immigration law. That still awaits action in the South Carolina House which passed a Voter ID law earlier in the session.
The Florida House has passed a strong E-Verify bill and a watered down Arizona-style immigration law. Business interests are trying to further weaken it in the Florida Senate. Given the Utah sellout (see below), I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar "compromise" bill triumph for the Cheap Labor Lobby in Florida.
The Tennessee Senate has passed a Voter ID law. The Tennessee state legislature will also be debating an Arizona-style immigration law and other restrictionist items, but so far there hasn't been much action on that front. Recently, Gov. Haslam reassured the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce that whatever bill that finally emerges from the legislature will be friendly to business.
The Texas state legislature has over thirty restrictionist bills to consider during this session. As in Georgia, these includes an Arizona-style immigration law and numerous other good bills—the majority of which will likely die awaiting attention from the Texas legislature.
The Texas House and Senate have both passed a Voter ID law. Governor Rick Perry is likely to sign it, but will probably use Voter ID as an excuse to justify vetoing stronger legislation that crosses his desk. This seems to be his strategy in "fast-tracking" the item.
The Oklahoma House and Senate have both passed an Arizona-style immigration law. As in Georgia and Florida, business interests have attempted to neuter the bill, and by some accounts have achieved at least limited success.
If I were a betting man, I would say that immigration patriots have their best shot at taking home a prize in these seven states. But they are likely to be disappointed several times before that happens.
Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina
There hasn't been much buzz about immigration reform in Louisiana, but Republicans will likely introduce several new immigration bills now that party-switching has given them control of the Louisiana state legislature.
In Arkansas, Democrats control the state legislature and the governorship, which they have already used this session to kill an attempt to ban in-state tuition for illegal aliens and another bill that would have denied social services to illegal in Arkansas.
In North Carolina, Republicans have introduced three bills whose fate remains uncertain: a Voter ID bill, a bill that would ban illegals from attending state universities, and a bill which would prohibit the state government from entering into contracts with illegal aliens.
The Democratic governor of North Carolina will veto any of these bills that pass the Republican controlled state legislature. For that reason, I would not be surprised if North Carolina Republicans passed them—but only to use the veto as a campaign issue, like their colleagues in Virginia.
Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire
North of Dixie, I have heard of sporadic attempts at patriotic immigration reform, but I don't have any good news to report.
A Republican in the Maryland state legislature introduced several proposed new restrictionist immigration laws. Democratic obstruction either has or will eventually kill all those bills. Meanwhile, the Maryland Senate has passed a state version of the DREAM Act.
Great things were supposed to come out of Pennsylvania this year. There was talk of the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature passing an Arizona-style immigration law and a birthright citizenship law. So far, there has been no action on that front, at least in the way of news that has crossed my desk.
Maine is debating a Voter ID law. Gov. Le Page issued an executive order which bans illegal aliens from the use of social services. This is one of the handful of things that Republicans have actually done this year.
In New Hampshire, the Republican controlled state legislature quietly killed an Arizona-style immigration law.
Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri
Wisconsin has been consumed by the battle between Gov. Scott Walker and the public employee unions. A Wisconsin Senate committee has advanced a Voter ID law, but neither chamber of the Wisconsin state legislature has passed an Arizona-style immigration law.
In Illinois, a Republican state legislator has introduced an Arizona-style immigration law, but it will die in committee or through the veto pen of the Democratic governor. Say what you will about the Democrats, but they reliably serve their pro-amnesty constituents.
Michigan will soon be considering an Arizona-style immigration law. Minnesota is still debating a Voter ID law. The Missouri Senate has already passed one.
Like Pennsylvania, Iowa was another state which looked promising to restrictionists last year, but which has also delivered nothing that comes to mind.
In the Midwest, the Indiana Senate alone has passed an Arizona-style immigration law. The bill now goes to the Republican-controlled Indiana House which still has to pass it. A distinct possibility remains that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (a possible presidential candidate like Haley Barbour) could veto any restrictionist bill that crosses his desk.
Oregon and California
Republican state legislators have introduced Arizona-style immigration laws in Oregon and California. This symbolic push for immigration reform will undoubtedly die in Democratic-controlled state legislatures. The California Assembly just killed two restrictionist immigration bills. [Assembly panel kills two anti-illegal immigration bills, SacBee.com, April 5, 2011]
Recently, the Oregon Senate passed the Oregon version of the DREAM Act. 11 Republicans voted against it. I predict they will use the issue to do some grandstanding in the 2012 elections.
New Mexico, Washington, Colorado