Friday, November 10, 2006

Illegal Immigration: Resolvable Issue or Unbreakable Principle?

From today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required):

Republicans on Tuesday managed both to lose their majority in Congress and alienate a fast-growing bloc of Latino swing voters. Other than that, the House GOP strategy of trying to save itself by bucking President Bush and using immigration as a wedge issue worked pretty well.
Ouch. After reading the transcript of Hugh Hewitt's on-air interview yesterday with Tony Snow, I am more convinced than ever that the Republican Party's response to illegal immigration will be a key to keeping the White House in 2008 and to regaining control of Congress. If the GOP doesn't come up with a coherent approach, they'll end up totally out of power.

Why? Because the political realities right now are these:

  • The conservative base (notice I did not say "Republican" base) admantly opposes any approach to immigration that includes "amnesty." To this small slice of the electorate, anything short of sending all illegals home is amnesty.
  • President Bush is equally adamant that any immigration reform must be "comprehensive," meaning combining serious enforcement with some path towards citizenship for those 12 million or so illegals already here. If you're uncertain about this, take a look at the excerpts from the Hugh Hewitt - Tony Snow interview below.
  • The majority of Americans also favor a comprehensive approach, but when you get down to details (what to do with criminals who are here, whether to have guest workers, whether to require immigrants to learn English), this group is all over the map, and does not have the single-minded commitment of the "enforcement only" group. Thus the hard-liners are a much more formidable political force.
  • Hispanics are a voting bloc that is here to stay and that the GOP needs in order to remain a competitive American political party.
  • In other words, the GOP has to find a way to keep that conservative base "in the tent" while still fashioning a policy that appeals to the broader electorate and does not alienate Hispanics.

    That's not going to be easy. The evidence so far is that the "no amnesty" approach to this issue has become a litmus test for the hard right. In other words, a large bloc of conservatives are saying that opposition to amnesty is not merely a position or an issue, but a principle-- right up there in importance with conservative principles like no new taxes, a strong defense, and judicial restraint.

    A solution? How about taking the issue on in this order:

    1. Secure the border and enforce the law. Get serious about this. Build the 700-mile fence, and be quick about it. Enforce employer sanctions. This will put pressure on the restrictionists to play ball, or look like obstructionists or even nativists.

    2. Propose a truly serious approach to regularization that includes at least the following:
  • No blanket amnesty.
  • A way for some illegals already here to remain here and become citizens.
  • A way for those who want to stay here to demonstrate their desire by their actions. Paying a fine and going to the back of the line for citizenship makes sense, for example.
  • Identify everyone. Start with a tamper-proof ID card for resident aliens may be essential.
  • Deport all criminal illegals who are here.

    That's at least a start.

    3. Call on the no-amnesty bloc to be a constructive part of the process. Their spokesmen (Laura Ingraham, for example) have always said "enforce the border, then we'll talk about what to do with illegals already here." They need to be pressured to honor that promise in good faith and to be part of a solution, rather than sinking in their heels and refusing to compromise.

    If the above doesn't happen, disaster lurks:

  • The diehard "no amnesty" group will stay home from the polls; many who do vote will support fringe candidates;
  • The GOP in Congress will be incoherent in its approach, as some try desperately to please the hard-core anti-immigration base and others try to please the broader electorate;
  • Someone like Tom Tancredo will try to run for president as a protest candidate on the issue. The shrill rhetoric emanating that camp will be music to the ears of the MSM, which will amplify it everywhere. I can hear it now: "The Know-Nothing bloc of the Republican party made its voice heard today in a rally in San Antonio . . . ."
  • Republicans generally will be painted as mean-spirited. Many will try to escape that classification, and the party will become even more divided on the issue.
  • Most important, any evential GOP presidential nominee who does not pay close attention to the base on this issue will not have that group's support.
  • Any candidate who takes only the "no amnesty" approach will lose the general election.
Rock, meet hard place.

So a coherent approach is essential. I hope the GOP can find the leadership to develop that approach. The Wall Street Journal editorial today is recommended reading; it's scathing indeed.

Update: Called As Seen includes a fascinating comment from an Arizona reader that underscores how oddly this issue plays out:

We had four ballot propositions dealing directly or indirectly with the
immigration issue:

1. Prop 100 - No bail for illegal immigrants arrested
for a serious felony [passed 78-22]

2. Prop 102 - No punitive damages
awarded to illegal immigrants in civil lawsuits [passed 74-26]

3. Prop
103 - English as the state's official language [passed 74-26]

4. Prop
300 - Limit state services/subsidies for illegal immigrants (including in-state
tuition for Universities) [passed 72-28]

Whether or not these
propositions make any real difference, it clearly shows that a good portion of
the citizens in Arizona want something done about illegal immigration.


1. Our Democrat Governor who openly supports giving
driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and was against all the propositions
mentioned, wins re-election by a wide margin [63%].

2. Dem Attorney
General who fought implementation of the last illegal immigrant related
proposition, wins re-election by a wide margin [60%].

3. JD Hayworth-R,
one of the loudest members of Congress on the illegal immigration front, looks
to have narrowly lost AZ-CD5 to Harry Mitchell-D [46-51].

4. Randy Graf-R, very vocal anti-illegal immigration, running in open seat AZ-CD8, which covers a good portion of Arizona's southern border, lost handily to Giffords-D

If you can explain all of this with a simple nostrum, then you're a better thinker than I am.


Blogger SkyePuppy said...

The reports I read (sorry, I was all over the blogosphere, so I don't remember where) said that Hayworth and Graf's opponents campaigned TO THE RIGHT of them on the illegal immigration issue. That could explain their wins, but not the governor's.  

Posted by SkyePuppy

Saturday, November 11, 2006 12:12:00 PM  
Anonymous DL said...

There is one answer for the politicians in both parties that want amnesty and citizenship for law breakers.

Put the issue to the voters on a national referendum, instead of nuancing what last Tuesday's votes meant.

If trust in the people to make wise decisions nothing less is acceptable -but it won't happen because trust is not accceptable on this issue. 

Posted by DL

Saturday, November 11, 2006 3:32:00 PM  

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