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The Democrats Can Win on Immigration

By Froma Harrop

In the Missouri Senate race, which candidate is more serious about curbing illegal immigration?

a) Republican Jim Talent, who says, "The only way you're going to stop illegal immigration ... (is) at the border."

b) Democrat Claire McCaskill, who wants to crack down on the employers who hire them. "It's not fair to beat up on those people," she says, "and meanwhile give the people who are profiting off of them a free pass." (Both quotes courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)

The resounding answer is (b), the Democrat.

McCaskill says that Talent is a creature of the agri-businesses that want cheap labor. Talent's position would explain two things: Why he voted against a measure to require companies to check a worker's right to work in this country through a national database. And why a Democrat is running neck-in-neck with a Republican incumbent in generally conservative Missouri.

Democrats who vow to enforce employer sanctions are drawing broad support in other races. In Woodstock, Conn., a registered Republican told Democrat Ned Lamont that he had just one question: How would the senatorial candidate address illegal immigration? Lamont's response was that the government should crack down on people who hire illegal workers. The Republican said he liked that answer.

All the tough-at-the-border talk, perfected by the Bush administration, is fooling nobody. It has become code for "we're not going to do anything to inconvenience companies that hire illegals."

Build a wall two miles high along the entire border with Mexico, and illegal aliens will dig under it, fly over it or sail past it into New Orleans or Newark. They will enter as tourists and overstay visas. They will come if they think there's a job for them in the United States. The story is that simple, and everyone in America knows it, including the politicians who pretend otherwise.

It's the Democrats' good fortune that they don't have a cheap-labor wing of their party. The Wall Street Journal reports that Republicans in big business, including the construction industry, are threatening to withhold contributions to candidates who seem earnest about cutting off the supply of illegal workers.

While desirous of attracting Latino votes, Democrats must also defend the wages of the low-skilled American workers (which includes not a few citizens of Latino heritage). And by going after the employers, rather than the immigrants themselves, they avoid singling out Mexicans, or any other nationality, for rough treatment at the border.

The best thing Democrats have to run on, though, is the Republican non-record. Republicans hold both houses of Congress and the presidency, and they've done about zero to slow, much less stop, illegal immigration.

And even though the issue is a top public concern, Republican strategists have put it on the back burner until after the Nov. 7 election. Once the voters are off their backs, they can resume providing business interests with their cheap-labor fix.

Back in Missouri, Republican Talent supports and Democrat McCaskill opposes a guest-worker program. The guest-worker proposal in the Senate immigration bill would help double the supply of unskilled foreign laborers.

McCaskill says that once the temporary work visas expired, the workers would stay on because the government won't keep track of them. Talent explains that he doesn't want a guest-worker program that's "open-ended" -- a nicely vague term that the Bush administration could do wonders with.

Border security should be for catching terrorists and criminals. It should not be burdened with enforcing our labor laws. The proper venue for that is the American workplace. Cut off the job magnet, and the workload at the border gets lighter and the problem with illegal immigration gets solved. Sounds like a plan for Democrats.

fharrop@projo.com

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate


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