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Lindsey Graham is no friend to US immigrants

  • Jake Flanagin
By Jake Flanagin


Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

US senator Lindsey Graham is “98.6%” certain he will run for the Republican nomination for president, according to USA Today. A formal announcement is expected in early June, 2015.

Graham seeks to differentiate himself from the slew of other declared GOP candidates by appealing to Latino voters—specifically, on the issue of immigration. He hopes to be the only Republican hopeful touting a “path to citizenship” policy in 2016.

“If I were president of the United States I would veto any bill that did not have a pathway to citizenship,” Graham told USA Today. “You would have a long, hard path to citizenship … but I want to create that path because I don’t like the idea of millions of people living in America for the rest of their lives being the hired help. That’s not who we are.”

His voting record, however, indicates a fairly un-nuanced understanding of the immigrant condition.

Though he voted “yes” on comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, establishing a guest worker program in and allowing undocumented immigrants to participate in Social Security in 2006, and expanding immigrant residency rules; a number of his “nay” votes have subtly and not-so-subtly undermined immigrant livelihood in the United States.

In 2013, he voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women act, which creates special pathways to citizenship for battered immigrants married to a US citizen. Many undocumented women do not report instances of domestic violence for fear of deportation; forfeiting access to their children if they were born in the US, and thus hold US citizenship.

Though Graham voted to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in 2007, he voted against a  2014 proposal to raise it incrementally to $10.10 by 2016. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage—according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, “a single mother with two children earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour needs to work 125 hours per week, more hours than there are in a five-day work week, to earn a living wage.” Graham’s home state of South Carolina maintains no minimum wage law.

Aside from the fact that a substantial number of immigrants—legal and undocumented—would benefit from a minimum wage increase, a number of economists have theorized that a higher minimum wage would also necessitate immigration reform in favor of a “pathway to citizenship.” Writing for Foreign Policy, Daniel Altman explains:

In markets where undocumented workers were prominent, a higher minimum wage might actually leave some of the people it was intended to help out of work—though not for the traditional reasons. But the solution would be simple: Get the undocumented workers into the formal labor force.

Graham also voted to make English the “national language” of the United States. The US constitution does not stipulate an official language—and though the establishment of English as the national American language would not necessarily be implemented to the exclusion of other language ins official documents, it is an implicit assertion of Anglo cultural superiority. Other non-English-speaking immigrant groups—Italians, Poles, Germans—assimilated with so-called “US culture” just fine without any official legislation quietly degrading their respective cultures.

“If we become the party of self-deportation, if that again is our position in 2016, we’re going to drive a deeper wedge between us and Hispanics,” Graham told CBS News in June 2014. “If we keep playing this game that self-deportation is the only answer for the Republican party, we will have destroyed our chances in 2016 and dealt a death blow to our party because by 2050 the majority of this country is going to be African-American, Hispanic and Asian.”

There’s your answer. Lindsey Graham has latched onto America’s immigrant community to save the GOP—not to serve a historically disenfranchised segment of the population. This probably explains his interest in the broader, more obvious trappings of immigrant-oriented legislation.

In Graham’s eyes, immigrants and Latinos are props, one-dimensional, easy to appease. Unfortunately for him, these groups are not monoliths, and they don’t vote like them. Appealing to them is accordingly complex. You can’t just vote “yes” on every bill with the word “immigration” in it. Whatever Graham may think, the many routes that immigrants take just to get to the start of path to citizenship is far too complex for that approach.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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