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Dems Must Get Serious About Illegals

By Froma Harrop

Hillary Clinton -- and the other Democrats running for president -- couldn't possibly have assumed that they would forever skate around the issue of illegal immigration. That notion came to an end in the most recent debate, when the New York senator badly slipped over a question about her state's controversial plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens. Did she think no one would ask?

Democrats had better start dealing with this. Polls show a large majority of Americans, including Democrats, opposed to illegal immigration. They also find that most Americans favor some sort of amnesty for many illegals. Clinton apparently tried to finesse the two, while ignoring what's behind the numbers.

What many Democrats (and Republicans) don't "get" is that the support for amnesty is highly conditional. It rests on trust that any official pardon will be the last one. The "grand bargain" on immigration went down in flames last spring because no one believed the sales pitch -- that with the amnesty would come a stop to future illegal immigration.

When will people know that their politicians mean business? When they hear them say "no."

Many Democrats have a terrible time saying "no" to illegal immigrants who are otherwise good people. Trouble is, there will always be nice, hardworking folks who come here without papers. Americans want their politicians to draw lines that they'll defend.

President Bush peddled the grand bargain's amnesty as a recognition that many illegal aliens have been working in this country a long time. But when the bill came out, the cutoff date was set at just four months prior. Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, tried to insert some discipline into the amnesty deadline by requiring a five-year residency. He failed.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin recently lined up some attractive former illegal immigrants -- high-school grads who went on to serve in the military or attend college. The Democrat was pushing the Dream Act, which would have granted legal status to such fine young people. His performance was a blatant manipulation of the public's mixed feelings on amnesty.

Of course, any country would want these great kids. But Americans were not interested in a parade of piecemeal amnesties and no real progress on enforcing the immigration laws. They wouldn't go for a "yes" until they heard a "no."

Cheap-labor Republicans can't say "no" to big business. Their grand-bargain trick was to unveil a vast new guest-worker program that would have simply made millions of would-be illegals legal -- though still exploitable. The public did not buy.

And what about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens? The last thing New York needs is another fishy form of ID, especially one stamped by the state. Even Mike Bloomberg, New York City's open-borders mayor, worried that the feds would not accept these licenses at airports once Real ID goes into effect.

Clinton argues that illegal aliens are coming here anyway, so giving them licenses is just recognizing reality. If that's her stand, why bother with immigration laws at all? People will always be coming here illegally, and so there will always be a new reality to recognize.

The other Democrats, with the exception of Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, saw nothing wrong in issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens. They're honest but courting political disaster.

Democrats need a serious response to illegal immigration. The only effective approach is also the sensitive one: Enforce sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens (and that requires a secure ID). This would take some pressure off the border with Mexico.

Can the Democratic candidates learn to say "no" to illegal immigration? One thing is certain: They can't say nothing.

Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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