Backlash Against Illegal Alien Protests?

Monday’s boycott and the recent series of marches by illegal aliens and their supporters is creating a backlash, according to two Washington Post reports.

A page 10 story by Darryl Fears

While a series of marches focused much of the nation’s attention on the plight of illegal immigrants, scores of other Americans quietly seethed. Now, with the same full-throated cry expressed by those in the country illegally, they are shouting back.

Congressional leaders in Washington have gotten bricks in the mail from a group that advocates building a border fence, states in the West and South have drawn up tough anti-immigrant laws, and ordinary citizens, such as Janis McDonald of Pennsylvania, who considers herself a liberal, are not mincing words in expressing their displeasure. “Send them back,” McDonald said. “Build a damn wall and be done with it.”

The anger evoked a word that immigrant organizers who opposed Monday’s boycott feared: backlash. McDonald and other Americans were particularly disturbed by Monday’s boycott and civil action, attended in large part by people who entered the country illegally and are now demanding rights enjoyed by U.S.-born citizens and immigrants who entered the country legally. “How dare they,” said McDonald, a research specialist for the University of Pittsburgh who said she voted for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential election. “If they are so active, why aren’t they in Mexico City, why aren’t they forcing their leaders there to deal with the quality of life? If you don’t like it here, go home.”

That strong sentiment was heard across the country, on a radio program in Los Angeles, where talk-show hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou encouraged listeners to participate in a “Great American Spend-a-Lot” to offset the effect of the boycott. They vowed to reimburse listeners picked in a drawing.

In the Washington area, African American radio listeners kept bringing up the immigration issue as Leila McDowell, a guest host on the Joe Madison show, tried to discuss abuse of black and Latino workers at a North Carolina meat-processing plant. “I would say that the majority of comments were hostile, but it wasn’t an overwhelming majority,” said McDowell. “A lot of people said immigrants were trying to make ends meet just like us. And then there were those who said that they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our services, that they shouldn’t be legal, that my forefathers were slaves, and these people haven’t paid their dues.”

Bill Turque and Nikita Stewart have a front page story about a local reaction.

Herndon voters yesterday unseated the mayor and two Town Council members who supported a bitterly debated day-labor center for immigrant workers in a contest that emerged as a mini-referendum on the turbulent national issue of illegal immigration. Residents replaced the incumbents with challengers who immediately called for significant changes at the center. Some want to bar public funds from being spent on the facility or restrict it to workers living in the country legally. Others want it moved to an industrial site away from the residential neighborhood where it is located.

The labor center forced the western Fairfax County town into the national spotlight last summer as the immigration debate grew deeply contentious. Even though fewer than 3,000 people voted yesterday, advocates on both sides of the issue looked at the Herndon election as a test of public sentiment. Outside groups such as the Minuteman Project, which opposes illegal immigration, intervened in the debate, and Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group, is suing the town over the establishment of the center.


Judith M. Markbein, 59, a second grade teacher, said she voted the incumbents out because “when we put money into a day-labor site, we are putting money into people who are illegal. I’m not trying to be prejudiced, but when people are given rights that they haven’t earned, it makes me angry.”

These stories are incredibly anecdotal and a local election with virtually no turnout could have been decided on a wide array of issues. The “backlash” angle would be more interesting if supported by some tracking numbers in public opinion polls.

Still, I would not be at all surprised if the anecdotal evidence accurately reflected aggregate trends. This issue, along with gas prices, is a gut level issue that seems very uncomplicated and is backed by visceral passion. Anger trumps logic or ideology with voters.

Update: Dave Shuler helpfully points out a Rasmussen poll this morning that shows no impact at all:

Rasmussen Reports conducted identical surveys on April 29-30 and May 1-2 to measure the immediate reaction to the May Day events. A total of 1,000 Likely Voters were interviewed for each survey.


Support for an enforcement first policy was 67% before the marches, 66% after.

Support for Earned Citizenship was 53% on the first survey and 53% on the follow-up. Support for strict employer penalties for knowingly hiring illegal aliens was at 70% on both surveys.

Before the marches, 50% said that illegal immigrants reduce wages of working class Americans. After the marches, 52% held that view.

Given that “the margin of sampling error for the survey is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence,” there has literally been no detectable movement. Since there was so much press coverage of the protests, this would seem to both confirm my analysis that this is a gut issue about which people have strong opinions and give strong reason to doubt the “backlash” thesis. A question mark has been appended to the post title in light of this.

Update 2: Kevin Aylward has more insights into the Herndon elections.

In addition to being one quarter Hispanic, Herndon is one of the DC-area suburbs that is usually solidly Democratic; though that didn’t seem to matter much in this case. Perhaps, when the issue is made local and personal, Republicans will find that focusing on the economic costs of illegal immigration can be a winning strategy to pickup cross-over votes.

The John Hawkins who is not a dead rapper notes a totally unscientific poll that might also be problematic for the GOP.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    Good Morning Everyone:

    As I awoke this morning and got my usual cup of coffee, and turned the news, both local and national, the number one headline was the immigration march backlash. Now, on my computer, I see that here on OTB the number one story is the march backlash.

    My thoughts also went to yesterdays primary election results and low and behold, the same old do nothing politicans were again voted to run in the upcoming November Elections.

    When I combine both the march backlash and the primary results together, I thought “what the hell”. The same politicans did nothing to solve the immigration problem in the past several years, so why should we expect anything different to happen when the “same old politic ans” are put back into office.

    The Democrats want an open border and a free pass to every illegal and the Republicans, who have the power, want to be more aggressive. So, what to do in the November election, If you vote for the Democrats we just as well eliminate “Homeland Security” and If you vote Republican, you vote for a party that don’t know how to use the power the voters gave them and will again “Do Nothing”

    Maybe the best thing to do is to just say “To hell with it” and go hide in the deep Forrest, live off the land, enjoy the gifts that the good lord gave us and be thankful that you are in a place where the politicans dare not go.

    Can yo detect the disgust I have with the folks “Inside the Beltway”

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The Rasmussen tracking poll on immigration didn’t find much change at all.

  3. ICallMasICM says:

    Dunkin’ Donuts was open today and exceptionally crowded. Everyone seemed to be getting coffee and donuts and there was no counterprotest.

  4. gringoman says:

    Backlash? Yes, but, as El Presidente puts it in ‘Our First Mexican Pressident’

    “….Remember, Mexico is a very proud nation, even if its government is a piece-of-crap narco-republica. You know how they get when Mexico has a soccer match. They got macho comin’ out their nachos (heh-heh.)………Our Mexi friends have an expression: chingada. It’s not that they or their communist agitators take us for suckers who got fat. They’re just tired of being chingada.. They’ve been chingada for centuries. Yes, maybe we are now in danger of becoming chingada ourselves……….. So what’s the answer? Well, it’s simple, really. Why complicate it? All we have to do is import Mexico’s problems, save its no-good dirt-bag government, put their people to work, then give them citizenship so they won’t work so cheap. That’s what they want,what Business wants, and the politicians want….”

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    My own view is that most people’s minds have already been made up on this subject and that there is, in fact, a consensus. Our elected representatives disagree vehemently with the consensus (as the survey suggests). Since there’s no chance whatever that the November elections will result in a mindset change on the part of the elected representatives (the regular candidates for both parties toe the line), the will of the people on this subject is irrelevant.