At last weekend’s APEC summit, President Bush made clear the administration will try to justify its planned amnesty of illegal aliens as something necessary for greater border security. Despite unending criticism of his January call for the amnesty, the overwhelming passage of an Arizona state ballot initiative that prevents the use of public money on services for illegal aliens and every poll showing roughly 80 percent of Americans favor greater enforcement of our immigration laws, the president has decided the first political capital expenditure will be on an item Americans decidedly do not want.
The president now adopted completely the canard of the Wall Street Journal wing of the Republican Party, saying to the press corps at the summit that our border patrol’s time would be better spent intercepting terrorists and drug traffickers than “people going to work.” But members of the Border Patrol, speaking in defiance of a gag order issued by Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson, say privately their recent deployment orders have created the widest holes in our border in 30 years. “We’ve been told, in essence, to park the trucks,” said one agent in October.
What the president hopes to achieve is not based on the reality of illegal immigration. Every year, American businesses import a massive underclass of people to do our dirty work while studies consistently show illegal immigration is a net drain on the public budget. The president’s amnesty would cause a net fiscal deficit of $29 billion, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, with an already demonstrated deficit of $10 billion for 2002.
Opinion-makers are finally beginning to ask if these deficits represent anything more than a massive public subsidy of the agricultural and hospitality industries. If an amnesty takes place, the aliens now “hiding in the shadows,” as the administration likes to characterize them, don’t stand to take anything more home from their employers. Though the president’s plans remain vague, every bill that has been drawn up in response to his call for an amnesty has no provision mandating minimum wages for applicants for legal status. When the White House was asked if the administration sought a minimum wage guarantee, it said there were no plans to do so.
The president is cheered by his performance in the election, and much postelection talk has centered on Latinos voting in greater numbers for Mr. Bush than any other Republican presidential candidate. The cynical have said the campaign’s peddling of an amnesty in the Spanish-language press helped achieve this. But a closer look at congressional races shows Hispanic voters back candidates who oppose an amnesty.
Utah’s 3rd Congressional District saw this year a race that can rightly be called a referendum on the president’s amnesty plans. In one of the most heavily Republican districts in the country, incumbent Chris Cannon, who massively outspent his rivals, faced Democratic challenger Beau Babka. Before the general election, Mr. Cannon made it through a bruising primary contest in which his challenger – who campaigned almost solely on opposition to Mr. Cannon’s sponsorship of the AgJOBS bill, the primary House amnesty bill – peeled off more than 40 percent of the incumbent’s primary votes. Then in the November election, Mr. Babka, the Democrat, garnered the majority of the district’s Latino votes even after he came out solidly against amnesty.
Rank-and-file Republicans are at a loss to explain the administration’s leftward movement on the illegal immigration issue. It has even filtered down to the enormous intelligence reform bill pending in the House. While one of the explicit September 11 Commission recommendations was greater restrictions on driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, senators have termed “controversial” House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Sensenbrenner’s insistence on such restrictions.
Mr. Sensenbrenner’s peer in the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, who also opposes the current bill, said, “The American people are overwhelmingly on our side.”
Any controversy exists only inside the Capitol Building. Americans, including those of Hispanic descent, uniformly favor robust enforcement of our immigration laws.
Which of the two camps – that typified by Chris Cannon or by Jim Sensenbrenner – represents the future of the Republican Party? The administration can take the party down the road requiring unending efforts to please identity groups (the road undoing the Democrats) or it can lead by observing the simple truth Americans of all stripes highly value law and order.