A war of words has broken out in recent weeks among groups of conservatives in the United States over the issue of legal, as opposed to illegal, immigration.

It’s put to bed the popular 2016 dictum to “not punch right,” or, as Ronald Reagan used to phrase it, never to speak ill of a fellow Republican.

The skirmish pits members of the conservative establishment (libertarians, never-Trumpers and neo-conservatives) against agitators of the so-called dissident Right (paleo- and social conservatives and self-described nationalists) over the future of the conservative movement in the US generally and the Republican Party in particular.

Yet the disagreements have contributed to a broader debate within conservative circles about massive demographic change in western countries and the consequences of such change for conservative ideals and principles, such as free speech and freedom of religion.

The ideological dustup broke out in late October when young anti-immigration activists began attending rallies organized by the conservative entrepreneur Charlie Kirk and his organization, Turning Points USA (TPUSA), on American college campuses.

TPUSA and Kirk, who was once a fervent critic of Donald Trump, promote libertarian ideals such as the free market, low taxes and increased legal immigration. A young black conservative woman, the popular media personality Candace Owens, was until recently TPUSA’s communications director.

Often derided as being part of “Conservative, Inc.” – the network of libertarian think tanks, websites and corporate foundations uniformly hostile to Donald Trump’s America First agenda — TPUSA now receives more than $10 million in corporate donations and grants annually. (Kirk founded TPUSA right after high school in 2012 instead of attending college.)

The young right-wing activists or, as the media call them, “Alt Right trolls” who showed up at TPUSA’s rallies on college campuses, some wearing pro-Trump MAGA hats, lined up during question and answer sessions to pose mostly polite but deliberately provocative questions to Kirk and some of his fellow speakers.

The questions appeared designed to highlight Kirk’s support for high levels of legal immigration that, the questioners said, negatively impact the job prospects and future wages of young college graduates.

The young questioners claim foreign worker and student visa programs are promoted by tech billionaires who want to replace highly-paid native-born workers with foreign students who will work for lower wages.

In fact, a 2017 episode of the TV news program “60 Minutes” gave credence to this claim by broadcasting the stories of native-born American tech workers being required to “train their replacements,” largely from India and China. 

“Hello Charlie, thank you for being here,” one young questioner asked at a TPUSA rally at Ohio State University. “I went into college knowing that I would be saddled with student loans, but did so to get a good paying job.

“What I didn’t foresee was being forced to compete with foreign labor in my own country, labor imported in many cases to drive down wages for graduates like me… How is making it harder for young people like me to get jobs America First?”

Kirk responded to this question and others like it by denouncing the questioners, saying that such questions are inherently racist and that true conservatives are in favor of legal, as opposed to illegal, immigration.

Whether the questioners themselves hold racist views or not, the substance of the questions being raised by these young troublemakers are also being asked by conservative thinkers who are not members of “Conservative, Inc.,” such as bestselling authors Michelle Malkin (herself the child of immigrants from the Philippines), Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson.

“Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk blithely advocates stapling green cards to foreign student diplomas and his speakers have shouted down America First students as racists and losers for challenging the donor class on demographic realities,” Malkin wrote in a column November 13. “The job of combating the American Students Last lobby has been left to anti-establishment outsiders…”

The controversy has further shifted the focus from illegal to legal immigration.

Recent studies show that, since the 1965 law that changed America’s immigration laws from a quota system to one giving preference to family unification, at least 60 million foreign nationals have entered the United States.

In fact, the US currently leads the world as the country with the largest number of migrants within its borders – the vast majority from a single country, Mexico.

Contrary to popular belief, most arrived through legal visa programs such as those for family unification (IR), transfers from overseas corporate subsidiaries (L-1), highly-skilled workers (H-1B) or students who graduate from American universities (F4).

The current estimate is 45 million, or 14 percent of the population – close to the record of 14.8 percent set in 1890.

What is changing is that conservatives and Republicans in America appear to be finally facing the very real consequences of this enormous demographic shift.  

 While the topic is routinely labeled racist whenever conservatives raise it, even The New York Times recently pointed out that the large number of foreign immigrants living in the once-conservative Commonwealth of Virginia is the reason the state “went blue” during the last election. 

“Once the heart of the confederacy, Virginia is now the land of Indian grocery stores, Korean churches and Diwali festivals,” the newspaper crowed. Referring to an Indian software engineer, the paper noted that the engineer’s vote (and thousands like it) “helped flip a longtime Republican State Senate district and deliver the Virginia statehouse to the Democratic Party for the first time in a generation.”

Indeed, voting statistics show that the only demographic group that votes for Republicans are the descendants of European immigrants and their wives.

All other ethnic groups vote primarily for left-wing candidates. According to the Pew Research Center polling data, 63 percent of Hispanics vote for Democrats, 65 percent of Asians, and 84 percent of African-Americans.

As a result of these and other statistics, increasing numbers of conservatives in the US now believe that even legal immigration must be radically curtailed or the likes of Bernie Sanders, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar – self-proclaimed democratic socialists – will be America’s future.

Activists such as Malkin and Ann Counter advocate a complete moratorium on all immigration for at least a decade, to give America time to assimilate the immigrants it already has and for conservatives to regroup.

In their view, the Democrats are trying to turn America into a failed socialist state like Venezuela – and as a result they must import millions of socialist-leaning voters from countries like Venezuela.

“Mass uncontrolled immigration both legal and illegal is turning America radically blue,” Malkin said in her November 13 column. “Democrats are throwing American youth under the bus.”

Robert J. Hutchinson writes frequently on the intersection of politics and ideas. He is the author, most recently, of What Really Happened: The Lincoln Assassination.

Robert J. Hutchinson writes about the intersection of politics and ideas. He is the author of What...