William Finn Bennett, North County Times (Escondido, Cal.), Oct. 3
Fed up with what they say is the Bush administration’s failure to address a growing illegal immigration problem, a small group of conservatives has launched a series of radio ads seeking to convince voters to oust President Bush from office.
Last week, a group called Friends of the Border Patrol began a series of ads on KABC-AM in Los Angeles blasting Bush for “playing politics with national security.”
The group plans on running the same ads in Arizona starting this week, before the Oct. 13 presidential debate in Phoenix, and in the following weeks in Nevada and New Mexico, a spokesman for the group said.
While California is generally considered to be safely in the Kerry camp, New Mexico and Nevada are seen as swing states that could go to either candidate in what is expected to be a close presidential race. Ron Prince, the chairman of Friends of the Border Patrol, said that he believes that Bush could lose Arizona as well.
In Nevada, three recent polls conducted in that state showed Bush with a five-point lead, 49 percent to John Kerry’s 44 percent. In Arizona, recent polls show Bush with an average 10-point lead over Kerry, 52 percent to 41.3 percent. Kerry is leading Bush in New Mexico — barely — 46 percent to 45.5 percent.
A spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party said Friday that he expects that the radio ads will have little effect on the presidential race in that state.
“We’ve come a long way from being a battleground state,” said Colin McCracken, communications director for the Arizona Republican Party. “The president’s support in Arizona is overwhelming, and very little is going to change that.”
Friends of the Border Patrol was formed in August to support the work of rank-and-file U.S. Border Patrol agents and to protest what the group sees as the federal government’s obstruction of the job those agents perform, according to the group’s executive director, Andy Ramirez.
He said the impetus for forming the group and airing the radio ads came during a July 24 rally at the Temecula Border Patrol station. The rally was held to protest a Border Patrol administration decision to halt a series of sweeps of Inland cities that — in just two weeks in June — had netted nearly 500 illegal immigrants.
Ramirez said he and Prince “just looked at each other and realized . . . we’ve got to do something about this.”
Prop. 187 author
Prince is best-known as the co-author of 1994’s Proposition 187, an initiative that would have denied public benefits to illegal immigrants. He has been a consistent critic of President Bush for not taking stronger action on immigration reform. About 60 percent of California voters approved Prop. 187, but in 1995, a federal appeals court overturned it.
Late last year, Prince and Ramirez backed a similar initiative, dubbed “Save our State,” but they failed to gather the nearly 800,000 signatures necessary to put the measure before voters in November.
While they are concerned about the economic effects of illegal immigration, they say their biggest worry is that terrorists can slip across the porous U.S. border with Mexico.
“I think it’s more important to defend my nation than to be walking in lockstep like a good little Republican just because he is president,” Ramirez said.
Because it is generally conceded that California’s electoral votes will go to Kerry in November, Ramirez acknowledged that running the ads here is little more than a symbolic gesture, but that they still wanted to make the statement.
“We didn’t want to ignore our base,” he said.
Possible swing states
It is in the Southwestern swing states of Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico where the group plans on investing most of its efforts and advertising dollars, Ramirez said.
Highest on the agenda is Arizona. Prince said he has raised about $20,000 of the estimated $25,000 cost of the radio advertising campaign he plans to run in Arizona before the Oct. 13 Phoenix debate. He plans to spend another $25,000 for advertising in Arizona between the debate and Election Day, as well as about $10,000 in both Nevada and New Mexico.
Even those relatively small states could tip the election, Prince and Ramirez note. If Kerry were to win all the states won by Al Gore in 2000 and carry either Arizona or Nevada, which went to Bush in 2000, Kerry would win the election. Arizona has 10 electoral votes, while Nevada has five.
New Mexico, with five electoral votes, is being included in the ad push, they say, because it is a border state and considered “in play,” even though polls show it to be leaning toward Kerry. Gore won it in 2000 by just 303 votes.
Prince said that voter resentment in those states toward Bush and his immigration policies could provide Kerry with just enough votes to make the difference and cost Bush re-election.
“With this contest, where both Kerry and Bush are standing on the edge of the cliff, just one little push could make the difference,” Prince said.
An unpopular stance
The pair say they know their efforts are costing them support and friends in Republican political circles, but that they feel so strongly about the immigration issue they are willing to help elect Kerry to get their message across to the Republican Party leadership.
“This is bigger than being a Republican or a Democrat . We need a new commander in chief that will protect our borders,” Ramirez said.
Some area Republicans, however, say that because of the overwhelming support for Bush within the Republican Party, they don’t expect the ads to have much of an effect.
“I haven’t heard anything but a strong commitment from conservatives of getting the president elected,” said San Diego County-based Republican political consultant Scott Barnett.
“He is the first president who actually understands Mexico, (that) people are coming here from Mexico because they want better lives,” he added.
Ramirez said the group is upset with the president for his support of a guest-worker program that would allow foreign citizens to come to the United States for temporary work, an idea touted in the Bush campaign platform. The guest-worker program would also allow illegal immigrants already in the country to sign up.
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said last week that Bush proposed the program, in part, to fill an economic need.
“The temporary-worker program matches willing foreign workers with willing U.S. employers when no (available) American workers can be found,” he said.
When asked how the government would determine whether there are no Americans willing to take those jobs, Lisaius said that the details of the program are still being worked out with Congress.
Lisaius said the program would also make America safer because it would require that those illegal immigrants who join the program register with the government, making it easier to track their whereabouts. It would also require that workers return to their county of origin once their yet-to-be determined time limit has elapsed.
Ramirez disputed Lisaius’ assessment.
“They can claim it’s a guest-worker program, but Americans are not fooled — it’s amnesty,” he said.
Another sore point with the group is the Bush administration’s successful efforts to cut a portion of a bill now before the House of Representatives that would have barred American banks from accepting as identification a document issued to Mexicans in this country by the Mexican government.
On Sept. 14, the Associated Press reported that after the Bush administration opposed that part of the bill, which would have banned the use of the “matricula consular” by U.S. banks. Congress then voted to strike the wording from the bill.
One nationally recognized conservative figure who wants to remain anonymous said last week that he believes the illegal immigration issue represents a threat to Bush’s chances of re-election.
“The unrest is widespread amongst conservatives,” said the man, who served as a campaign consultant on Ronald Reagan’s 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns.
But those Republicans who oppose the president’s policies on illegal immigration — including him — are afraid to publicly denounce Bush, he said.
“They don’t want to take the heat from the Republican establishment, don’t want to be seen as being disloyal,” he said.
Fear, he said, also underlies the Bush administration’s failure to take a stronger stand on illegal immigration — fear of losing votes, he said.
“They are scared as hell of the Hispanic vote; it’s all about the election,” he said.
The 2000 U.S. Census reported that 38.8 million Latinos live in the United States. A 2002 update by the Census Bureau estimated that in just two years that population had increased by 9.8 percent, about four times greater than the rate of growth for the population as a whole.
In 2000, 62 percent of Latinos voted for Gore. According to a July poll conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, Kerry is projected to garner the same 62 percent of the Latino vote, Bush 32 percent.
Ramirez said many conservatives are also mad at Bush because of what they see as his administration’s failure to crack down on those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
“Every single company that hires illegal immigrants should be fined,” Ramirez said. “This is all about cheap labor.”
Prince said big-business interests have pressured Bush into laying off companies that hire illegal immigrants.
“In the old days, (political) patronage was all about providing jobs. Now, it’s about campaign contributions from business interests,” he said.
In the 2004 Republican Party platform, it states: “There must be strong workplace enforcement with tough penalties against employees and employers who violate immigration laws.”
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said in a recent interview that the number of companies investigated nationwide for hiring illegal immigrants has increased significantly. However, federal records show that the number of fines issued against companies for the practice has plummeted.
The records show that in 2001, 141 companies across the country were hit with fines, 15 of them in California. By 2002, those numbers had dropped to 73 and one, respectively. In 2003, 15 companies in the United States were fined, none of them in California. And as of May 2004, just one company — in Maryland — was fined. May was the most recent month for which statistics were available.
The former campaign consultant to Reagan said he believes that Bush is not coming down harder on illegal immigrants out of a need to satisfy big-business interests.
“They want more cheap labor. All they are interested in is their profits,” he said.
The ads pound the same point: “We believe the president wants illegal immigration. Why? Because illegals work cheap; that’s the bottom line.”
The cost of cheap labor
But the price that America pays for that cheap labor is too high, the ads go on to say: “You can’t keep the borders open and the terrorists out.”
Jack Orr, a San Diego County-based political consultant, said Monday that he was unaware of the radio advertising campaign against Bush. He added that while he has heard people within the Republican Party complain about Bush’s guest-worker proposal and other immigration policies, he has not heard anyone say they would go so far as to vote against his re-election.
“This is certainly misplaced at best, and at worst, it’s bad timing,” Orr said.
While he doesn’t anticipate the radio ads will have an effect in California, he said he believes they could affect the election in states such as Arizona and Nevada. And in a tight race, he said, it might even affect the outcome of the election.
“It could have the effect of handing it to John Kerry,” Orr said. “I would say to those people mounting this campaign, be careful what you wish for.”