Recent actions by the U.S. Senate have raised questions about whether a minority of the institution’s Republican majority has a political death wish. A number of Republican senators, and even one or two of their leaders, cast votes over the past few weeks that produced a seriously defective immigration “reform” bill — one that is anathema to most of the party’s base.
The reasons for such anger are not hard to discern. The Senate-passed immigration bill undermines the rule of law in America by rewarding illegal behavior, and encouraging more of it. It erodes public confidence in our system by giving “undocumented” aliens preferential treatment over American citizens. And it invites public outrage by creating vast new entitlements for illegals at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.
If the damage entailed for the country by the Senate immigration deform bill were not bad enough, many of the same Republican senators may be about to add profound insult to this considerable injury.
As soon as this week, Hawaii’s Democratic senators, Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, hope to secure sufficient numbers of Republican votes to pass legislation that is, if anything, even more inconsistent with American interests and security than the new immigration bill — “The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act” (S. 147). At this writing, they appear to have cut enough deals to obtain the Republican support necessary greatly to accelerate the process of unraveling the United States as a nation.
The Bush White House once again bears no small responsibility for this bipartisan legislative travesty. As with Hispanic voters in the immigration context, it seeks with such pandering to outbid Democrats for the support of an ethnic community. In this case, however, it is a community that is largely a figment of some politicians’ imaginations — an ostensibly identifiable and once-sovereign race of “Native Hawaiians.” In reality, this bill would artificially conjure up a new “tribe” out of what actually is one of the most heterogeneous and fully assimilated populations in all the United States.
To accomplish such an odious — and thoroughly un-American — feat, S. 147 engages in some remarkable contortions. The bill uses as its test for membership in the so-called “sovereign” Native Hawaiian “race” what amounts to the ability to claim a one-drop-of-blood connection to an “aboriginal, indigenous, and native person.”
This test is complicated by two inconvenient facts: In the more distant past, Hawaii was governed by a monarchy — under which sovereignty resided in a single individual, not in a people, and it was not racially based. And since the 19th century, the Hawaiian “people” included many native-born and naturalized subjects who were Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Samoans, etc., not “ethnic” Hawaiians.
Equally noteworthy is the absence from this definition of characteristics previously required for a Native American tribe to be recognized as such. For example, a “Native Hawaiian” need not demonstrate: residency in Hawaii (either currently or at any time in the past), ties to a particular traditional culture or language, or any documented involvement or interest in Hawaiian, much less “Native Hawaiian,” community or political affairs.
This is not an accident. The law could not establish such conditions because it would be exceedingly difficult to constitute a tribe if they applied.
What would such legislation mean for the country? In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an earlier effort by Hawaii to create a state-sanctioned, race-based entity composed solely of Native Hawaiians (defined in a manner similar to S.147).
Citing the Constitution’s 15th Amendment which forbids discrimination in voting based on race, the court ruled:
“One of the reasons race is treated as a forbidden classification is that it demeans the dignity and worth of a person to be judged by ancestry instead of by his or her own merit and essential qualities. An inquiry into ancestral lines is not consistent with respect based on the unique personality each of us possesses, a respect the Constitution itself secures in its concern for persons and citizens. … [To do so would be] odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality.”
Another effect of creating a race-based government in Hawaii could be secession of the islands from the Union, precipitating loss to the U.S. of such vital military installations as Pearl Harbor and creating an ominous precedent for self-rule sure to be seized upon by other self-designating communities like the reconquistas and Islamists amongst us.
If such dire repercussions are not sufficient to dissuade a minority of Republican senators from enabling the adoption of S. 147, perhaps another prospect might concentrate their minds: With their deals across the aisle and their White House-encouraged pandering at the behest of Hawaii’s GOP Gov. Linda Lingle, they are compounding earlier offenses to the party’s faithful. In the process, they are imperiling the re-election of colleagues this fall whose fate may determine whether they enjoy majority status in the Senate next year.
That traumatic reality now must trump ill-considered commitments to support S. 147 that these wayward Republicans may have made. As Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, one of the GOP’s brightest lights, most thoughtful legislators and leading opponents of the Senate immigration deform bill — and, therefore, a man the Democrats would love to unseat in November — put it last year: S. 147 sends “a message of racial division and ethnic separatism, and of rejection of the American melting pot ideal. The bill is, therefore, profoundly counterproductive to the nation’s efforts to develop a just, equitable and colorblind society, and it must not become law.”
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.