Will The Democrats Outflank The Republicans on Illegal Immigration? Not Necessarily.
As many have predicted, Democrats are finally attempting to exploit the perceived failure of the Bush Administration to enforce the country's southern borders. Even so, the White House and its Republican allies can still make good policy on this issue and turn it to their advantage. (If they can't do that, even with control of both houses of Congress, they are going to look very bad. This is the kind of issue that, if mishandled, can lose the Republicans enough seats, and enough internal party unity, to seriously harm their ability to govern.)
The Democrats Find An Issue; The L.A. Times Helps Them Out
Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Democrat governors both, recently attracted great attention when they declared states of emergency along their states' borders with Mexico. Lo and behold, suddenly the unrestricted flow of illegals into the USA attracts the attention of my agenda-driven hometown newspaper, the L.A. Times. Today's edition carries on the editorial page two prominent editorials by -- guess who?-- Richardson and Napolitano-- referring t0 "the border emergencies," complete with large photos of both governors and big headlines.
Here's the key language from Richardson's piece. Keep in mind he's a Democrat presidential dark horse for 2008, and an oft-mentioned vice presidential possibility as well:
Border security and immigration issues are clearly a federal responsibility. And those of us from border states have continuously urged the federal government to increase funding, expand patrols and dedicate more resources for border security. Yet our pleas have been met mostly by inaction. . . .Janet Napolitano sounds a similar theme:
Legislation signed by President Bush last fall called for 2,000 more border agents, yet his own budget proposal this year funded only 210 additional agents.
Our state accounts for about half of all illegal immigrant apprehensions in the country. Many of the human traffickers have little regard for their "customers."If these op-ed pieces had been Cruise missiles, the West Wing of the White House would be a smoking crater right now.
Enough is enough. States must now do what they can where the federal government won't.
. . .
I hope the state of emergency declaration draws Washington's attention. Arizonans have paid dearly, and we have waited long enough.
The Times, acting in its role as the Democrats megaphone, applauded both actions in an unsigned editorial Friday. Note the helpful manner in which the Times positions each governor on the issue:
Both governors have an excellent record on immigration issues. Napolitano was one of the first governors to call for a guest-worker program, and under Richardson, New Mexico is one of the few states where immigrants can apply for a driver's license without showing proof of legal residency.In other words, the Times says, these guys have it right: Toughen up the border and allow those already here to stay.
What is happening is what many conservatives have feared: The Bush Administration is being out-flanked on the issue of enforcing the border. Putting it another way, the Democrats are hijacking the issue.
What To Do?
First of all, I think Republicans should admit that their dithering on this issue has given Democrats this opening. Bush announced some guiding principles for immigration reform, detailed here, but there has not been much action. There are at least two bills (McCain-Kennedy and Cornyn-Kyl) pending in the Senate, but no action seems imminent. Into that seeming vacuum have rushed these two Democrat governors.
The political pitfalls facing Bush on this issue are complex. He has to be seen as taking action, but cannot afford to come across as anti-Hispanic or even anti-immigrant. That's a difficult tighrope to walk when you're cracking down on illegal immigration by a group composed 95% of poor Hispanics from Latin America. Anyone who disagrees needs to study the history of Proposition 187 in California and what happened to Governor Pete Wilson and our State's GOP when they agggressively campaigned on that measure, which passed but was later struck down by the courts.
Even so, there is opportunity here, if the Republicans will seize it. In some ways this issue reminds me of the notion that "only Nixon could go to China." Arguably, only Democrats could take a tough position on border enforcement and get away with it. If Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Rick Perry of Texas had been the first to declare a state of emergency on their borders, do you think the L.A. Times or other left-leaning MSM outlets would have been so laudatory?
So where's the opportunity? Right here: The two Democrat governors have now legitimized calls for tougher border enforcement. The GOP now has political cover for that approach to the issue. With just a little deftness some sustained effort, the Republicans can hijack the issue right back. Call it taking a page from Bill Clinton's book: He was a master at co-opting Republican positions. (Example: welfare reform in the 90's).
All the GOP has to do is this: Say, "Yes, we must enforce the borders, just as Governors Napolitano and Richardson are urging; and we must deal with those illegals who are already here by (1) finding out who and where they are, (2) deporting the criminals and other undesirables among them, and (3) figuring out how to regularize the rest who are here in a way that does not create an incentive for further illegal entries."
The Democrats' Inescapable Vulnerability on Illegal Immigration
Auspicious as this latest Democrat foray may be, their hypocrisy is easy to expose, and they will have a very difficult time riding the immigration horse to victory. Mark Krikorian sums the Dems' problem up well in this National Review Online piece. Excerpt:
Prominent Democrats have recently taken to striking pro-enforcement poses on immigration. They see the gap between the president's stance and that of the overwhelming majority of the Republican base, and they want to peel off enough of those voters — or just induce them to stay home — to overcome the GOP's narrow majorities in the past few elections. . . .Read the whole thing; Krikorian gives many other concrete examples of how impossible it is for the Democrats to get out of the corner they've painted themselves into; they're simply stuck with their commitment to unrestrained ilegal immigration. Here's Krikorian's zinger:
The southwestern governors, for their part, have taken every opportunity to facilitate illegal immigration; Richardson recently approved a bill to provide illegal aliens with in-state tuition at New Mexico state colleges, while Napolitano earlier his year vetoed a bill reaffirming the authority of state and local cops to enforce immigration law. . . .
[T]he ACLU . . . refused an open-and-shut free speech case in New York City — because it was about limiting immigration. In 1999, an immigration-control group named Project USA started putting up billboards in New York with pictures of two children with the inoffensive (and accurate) caption, "Immigration is doubling US population in our lifetimes," citing the Census Bureau as the source. City officials threatened the billboard companies with financial retaliation if they weren't taken down immediately, and the companies caved. One staff attorney told Project USA privately that the ACLU couldn't take such an obvious free-speech case because "there is a large and growing immigrants' rights faction within the organization."
Talk is cheap, especially when it comes to immigration control. But the immutable value [that the Democrats attach to] open immigration means the Democratic establishment is literally incapable of following through on rhetoric about tightening the border. This is obviously bad for Democrats, given public sentiment. It's also bad for Republicans, since they face no real competition on the issue. And that's bad for the republic.