he reached out last week to former secretaries of State and Defense
on Iraq policy, President Bush should call in his radio talk-show
supporters for a frank chat about immigration.
Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt and Laura Ingraham certainly
aren't as distinguished as ex-Secretaries James Baker, Madeleine
Albright and Robert McNamara, but they are the ones fueling Republican
uproar over illegal immigration.
support Bush ardently and they ought to be open to an argument
from him - an argument that happens to be correct - that the only
way the United States is truly going to solve the problem of illegal
immigration is with a comprehensive plan, like his, that not only
controls the borders but creates legal means for immigrants to
needs to make the argument to GOP House Members, who voted overwhelmingly
last month for an enforcement-only bill that beefed up border
security, made it a felony to be an illegal alien and authorized
building a fence along some of the border with Mexico.
pressure engendered by the talk-show claque, Bush tilted right
himself, delivering a pair of speeches that emphasized stricter
enforcement, but downplayed his traditional support for work permits
and declaring opposition to "amnesty" for illegals.
went home able to tell angry constituents that they'd cracked
down on immigration, but the truth is they've done nothing. No
bill has passed the Senate and what's in the offing is a stalemate
- unless Bush can rally his party to do something sensible.
If it's not
delayed by hearings on National Security Agency wiretaps on top
of confirmation proceedings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel
Alito, the Senate Judiciary Committee is supposed to take up immigration
reform this month.
Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has drafted a comprehensive bill that includes
beefed-up border controls, stricter internal employment checks
and a work permit system to allow new immigrants and illegals
to have legal employment in the U.S. for up to six years.
It's a far
better approach than the House bill, but business and pro-immigrant
groups are concerned that the bill will contain a provision sponsored
by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would
require workers to return to their home countries after their
six-year work visas expire.
disrupt employment patterns and family life and discourage illegals
from reporting for work permits in the first place.
A far better
solution would be for the Senate to adopt "earned legalization"
provisions of the bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), which would allow illegals and temporary
workers to stay in the U.S. if they pay fines, back taxes, learn
English and pass through a clearance procedure.
restrictionists denounce the McCain-Kennedy provision as "amnesty,"
but it's really a recognition of reality: There are 11 million
illegal immigrants in the U.S., and it would be far more efficient
to concentrate law enforcement resources on finding and expelling
criminals among them than trying to corral them all. If the Senate
passes a comprehensive measure, with or without McCain-Kennedy,
there's a danger that it would be rejected in the House as too
lenient. And the House's enforcement-only bill would be filibustered
in the Senate.
It's up to
Bush to avoid stalemate - and there are lots of good arguments
he can use to pull his party together. On the merits, he can show
that enforcement-only immigration policy simply doesn't work.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, overall spending
on immigration enforcement increased from $1 billion in 1985 to
$4.9 billion in 2002. Appropriations for the border patrol went
up tenfold, and the number of agents rose eightfold. Yet, according
to the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of illegal immigrants entering
the U.S. has averaged from 480,000 to 660,000 and a total of 9
million have entered since 1990.
Immigration Forum, which advocates both stronger enforcement and
earned legalization, estimates that the average cost of making
an arrest at the border has increased from $300 in 1992 to $1,700
hosts are right to argue that illegal immigration is out of control
and that terrorists can smuggle their way into the U.S. along
with workers. To the extent possible, the border should be sealed,
and Bush should vow to do it.
But he also
should make the obvious case to Republicans - and get help from
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in doing so - that there aren't enough
U.S. workers to fill the jobs immigrants generally take.
He also should
make the political case that his efforts to woo Hispanic voters
into the GOP - which has been successful when backed by welcoming
rhetoric - will suffer if the party develops an exclusionist reputation.
And he can
cite evidence from 2005 elections in Virginia and California:
Anti-immigrant campaigns don't win. In Southern California, Jim
Gilchrist, co-founder of the much-publicized Minutemen Project,
a civilian border-control group, got only 25 percent of the vote
and finished third in a special election to succeed to succeed
Rep. Christopher Cox (R), who now heads the Securities and Exchange
Virginia Attorney Gen. Jerry Kilgore (R) lost to Lt. Gov. Tim
Kaine (D) despite ads that attacked Kaine's support for a day-labor
site in suburban Herndon and education for immigrant children.
The ad concluded, "What part of illegal doesn't Kaine understand?"
foreign policy angle to be argued. Even though Mexico's current
president, Vicente Fox, has bolstered the anti-immigrant cause
with his loud complaints about U.S. policy, the United States
has every interest in encouraging the election next year of Felipe
Calderon, the Harvard alumnus who is the nominee of Fox's PAN
the 2006 favorite is former Mexico City Mayor Andres Lopez Obrador
of the left-wing PRD party - someone who's likely to get financial
assistance from Venezuela's radical President Hugo Chavez and,
if elected, could pursue economic policies that cause a surge
in illegal immigration.
there's evidence in a Tarrance Group poll that a combination of
tough border enforcement and McCain-style earned legalization
is popular. That plan beat an enforcement-and-deportation plan
58 percent to 33 percent - and that was just among likely Republican
right thing is win-win for Republicans, if only Bush can convince
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.